Mike Riggs on the Bipartisan Push for Drug Courts


When Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett announced his support earlier this summer for expanding drug court funding, the left-leaning Center for American Progress praised him as "just one of several conservative governors to take steps toward important—and fiscally responsible—prison reforms in their states."

CAP's kinds words are a testament to the big-tent appeal of the drug court model. Two decades after the first drug court sprang up in Miami, bipartisan proponents of the model as an alterrnative to incarceration are plentiful. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation has advocated for drug courts since 2006, the Obama administration has declared them a "third way" to address America's drug problem, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently announced his support for drug courts by saying, "If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb."

But as Associate Editor Mike Riggs explains, there are also many flaws with the drug court model, chief of which is that it's really just a cheaper means of enforcing prohibition. The proliferation of drug courts derives not from increased awareness of the harms of the drug war, but from fiscal woes at the state level. This is why drug court proponents haven't suggested changing drug laws, only reducing the cost of enforcing them.