Radio Column

Asa Arkansas's Governor

Drug Courts: A Compassionate Alternative


Column Transcript

This week, I had the privilege of addressing 250 professionals at the Statewide Drug Court Conference in Little Rock. These professionals have embraced a compassionate alternative to prison. Our drug courts give judges and probation and parole officers the freedom to design punishment that fits the person as well as the crime, but still holds them accountable. We personalize consequences and offer a human touch that increases the chance that a person will defeat addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Drug court allows us to tailor the treatment options for participants based upon the strength of their character, rather than their weaknesses. The traditional adversarial system is one of fighting it out. In drug court, both parties are on one team working to encourage success for those who are struggling. By focusing on recovery rather than simple punishment, our drug courts are finding creative ways to help participants battle addiction.

I recently became aware of a new program in Pope County that captures the intent and spirit of drug courts. The agents in the Russellville office realized that a lack of transportation was often an obstacle to success.  Using money from an Accountability Court Grant, the drug court has purchased one bicycle and has money for four more. The first individual to take advantage of the bicycle program has not missed a single meeting with the probation office, and now holds a full-time job. The idea “is one of the ways we thought we could increase the chance of staying sober”, according to Lisa Wells who works in the Russellville drug Court.

Drug court cuts costs for states by reducing the number of inmates in state jails. Drug courts also reduce the number of repeat offenders and increases the odds that a user will beat addiction.

Today, nearly 3,000 drug courts operate in the U.S. Of those, 79 are in Arkansas. That number includes 44 drug courts for adults, 13 for juveniles, 1 family drug court, 11 for veterans and 9 for DWI. I have seen the drug fight from many angles — as a community leader, as a member of Congress, as a federal prosecutor, an administrator of the DEA and now as Governor. My heart goes out to the families that struggle with this nightmare.

I appreciate the long hours and the heart the judges and officers of Arkansas’s Drug Court put into this compassionate alternative.

I am serious about reducing drug use in Arkansas. I also want to assure you that I also try to lead by example. In my office, we draw names from the staff for weekly random drug tests. A couple of weeks ago, a representative from the drug-test company drew my name. So I went into a small work room and submitted the inside of my cheek for a swab sample. I am happy to report that I passed.

A drug free Arkansas is a strong Arkansas. I am committed to making Arkansas a better place to live, start a business, or raise a family. I am pleased that Arkansas drug courts are working hard to do the same through providing compassionate and personalized care that provide a way out and a hand up for those in recovery.