Maui Drug Court celebrates 18 years and 600-plus lives saved

Viewpoint

When the Maui/Molokai Drug Court was in its infancy, the program participants organized a holiday party for their families. As I walked in and saw over 200 children, I was overwhelmed. It became crystal clear that the help our community provides participants through Drug Court has a direct impact on the lives of their children — Hawaii’s next generation.

The Maui/Molokai Drug Court was established under the leadership of now-retired Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto in 2000 and has helped more than 600 men and women recover from addiction and improve their lives. Over 85 percent of those who have graduated from our intensive treatment program have not been convicted of new felony offenses for at least three years following graduation. That success rate is consistent with many national studies, which show drug court graduates commit fewer crimes. This is important because drug and alcohol-related crimes impact our community in ways that go far beyond conventional criminality.

Addiction adversely affects the life and health of drug users, and brings physical and emotional suffering to families, especially children. Family, friends and neighbors become victims of addiction-related burglaries, thefts, criminal property damage, domestic violence, automobile fatalities and worse. Addiction also affects employers and the business community, and places additional strains on our already overburdened public safety and health care systems.

Fortunately, we have tools and methods that can help those struggling with substance abuse change the way they think and behave, and acquire the skills to successfully begin a new life.

Twenty-five years of scientific research conducted on drug courts across the nation has found that court-based treatment programs produce substantial reductions in both drug relapse and criminal behavior, leading to significantly fewer crimes, rearrests and days incarcerated, all of which translates into considerable net economic savings for local communities.

The cost of incarcerating someone in Hawaii is $140 per day. It currently costs only $15.27 per day to treat and supervise a Drug Court client.

Moreover, our Drug Court has helped ease overcrowding in Maui’s jail and reduce incarceration’s social costs on the families of participants. Our community has also been able to avert upfront criminal justice costs, as well as expenditures on parole, foster care and other social services.

Another important benefit that may be overlooked is the requirement for lawful employment. Unemployment is a recognizable commonality in many drug-related crimes. Drug Court requires that all participants be employed — no cash jobs — paying taxes and maintaining payments toward restitution and fines.

We’ve often received feedback that people in recovery make good employees for businesses in Hawaii. We believe it’s because the frequency, intensity and quality of counseling, community support and supervision Drug Court participants receive enables them to be valuable contributors to the success of businesses.

The achievements of the Maui/Molokai Drug Court are a testament to the dedication and hard work of many, including countless volunteers who provide clean-and-sober support for participants, community service and nonprofit agencies, families, friends and employers, the Department of Education, University of Hawaii Maui College, Department of Human Services, the County of Maui, the Homeless Resource Centers, and numerous treatment service providers such as Aloha House.

Heartfelt thanks also go out to the Maui/Molokai Drug Court Team, which includes the Maui Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, Maui County attorneys, court and probation officers, the Maui County Police Department and the Maui Office of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.

We give special thanks to the Maui Community Correctional Center, which has been instrumental in the Drug Court program’s ability to operate treatment dorms for men and women. There they receive drug treatment and sober living to help them transition back to the community. This component is rarely found in the U.S. criminal justice system.

A judge visiting from another state was amazed at how much a county our size has accomplished. We know it is because of the spirit and commitment of our community.

Thank you, Maui County, for all we have accomplished together, especially for our children — Hawaii’s next generation.

Questions about Drug Court? Please call (808) 442-3850 (Maui) or (808) 553-3397 (Molokai).

* Joseph E. Cardoza is chief judge of Hawaii’s 2nd Judicial Circuit and presiding judge of the Maui/Molokai Drug Court.

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