Would Ashcroft Halt Treatment Efforts for Drug Offenders?
With Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft nearing confirmation, "front lin[e]" supporters of drug courts, which underscore treatment over incarceration for drug offenders, worry that the former Missouri senator's "hard line" stance on drug policy could "threaten" their "nascent" programs, Salon.com reports. Ashcroft said in a past statement, "A government which takes the resources that we would devote toward the interdiction of drugs and converts them to treatment resources ... is a government that accommodates us at our lowest and least." He has also said, "When you consider the person and spirit of Christ, ... [h]e didn't accommodate people at their lowest and least. That's been a major fault of our government. When it says to ... a person on dope, 'Here's a clean needle and a treatment program, so in case you have a bad trip, we'll be there for you,' that's not real love." Although Ashcroft delivered the remarks "years ago," backers of treatment programs remain concerned that, if confirmed, he would "divert much-needed funds" from drug courts. J. Michael Kavanaugh, a drug court judge in Albuquerque, N.M., said, "For a critical person to come on the scene and throw a bucket of ice water on the value of treatment is a terrible message to send to courts," adding, "I think it speaks of a future where we take many, many steps backward." According to drug court advocates, the attorney general serves as a "crucial" figure for drug court programs -- both in maintaining bipartisan support for the programs and determining the amount of federal funding that they receive. In addition to "drying up" federal funding for drug courts, Ashcroft could issue an executive branch order to curtail the programs. Mindy Tucker, a spokesperson for President-elect Bush's transition team, said that Ashcroft has taken no "specific position" on drug courts but remains "committed to combatting" the nation's drug problem.
Fearing his "enormous influence" on drug policy as attorney general, some organizations have mobilized against Ashcroft's confirmation. "Ashcroft thinks the role of government in this area is to arrest people and patrol the borders and fight the war. He doesn't think it's in the area to help people," David Broden, executive director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network, said. According to Broden, Ashcroft has supported "mandatory minimum sentences" for drug offenders and would likely dismiss methadone treatment as a "separate drug rather than a legitimate treatment for heroin addiction." During his tenure in the Senate, Ashcroft opposed drug czar Barry McCaffery's antidrug advertizing campaign, a program that has helped decrease teenage drug use by 21% over the past two years, Salon reports. "Ashcroft has an unfortunate perspective (toward treatment) because ... those programs have been shown to be more effective than Prohibition-style incarceration," Miami public defender Bennett Brummer, who co-founded the first drug court with outgoing Attorney General Janet Reno in 1989, said, adding, "But many people cling to (incarceration) from a moralistic point of view, even though it doesn't help people lead drug-free, law-abiding lives." He also said that drug courts prove "more cost effective" that incarceration. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, incarceration of a drug offender costs between $20,000 and $50,000 per year, while treating an offender in a drug court program only costs $2,500 per year (MacKeen, Salon.com, 1/17).