Why bother with facts

Earlier this year, with virtually no effort to study the problem or get the facts, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors abolished the county’s Drug Court, which provided alternative sentencing and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders.

It was a move sadly typical of the all-Republican Board that swept into office last January — its willy-nilly spending priorities have been driven by throwing huge amounts of money at politically favored pet projects, then scrambling to find cuts somewhere else in programs that don’t have a powerful constituency among the Loudoun Republican apparatchiks who put them in office. (The Board claimed the drug court was not “cost effective” at $280,000 a year — but did not even bother to compare that to the cost of imprisoning each offender sent to jail instead — which is $25,000 per year in Virginia.)

Today’s New York Times has an interesting article on the subject which notes that conservative scholars and politicians on a national level have realized it is simply madness to lock up nonviolent drug offenders; the Times reports:

While many scholars still favor tough treatment for violent offenders, they have begun suggesting alternatives for other criminals. James Q. Wilson, the conservative social scientist whose work in the 1970s helped inspire tougher policies on prison, several years ago recommended diverting more nonviolent drug offenders from prisons to treatment programs.

Two of his collaborators, George L. Kelling of the Manhattan Institute and John J. DiIulio Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, have joined with prominent scholars and politicians, including Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich, in a group called Right on Crime. It advocates more selective incarceration and warns that current policies “have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders” so that they become “a greater risk to the public than when they entered.”

This group, which has actually studied programs nationwide and examined the research carried out by scholars like Wilson, has found it is consistently less expensive and more effective to divert nonviolent offenders to treatment programs — precisely the kind of program that Loudoun’s all-GOP Board abolished. In other words, when our local supervisors declared that the program was “not cost effective,” they were just babbling. They did not have the facts, nor did they care. They just spouted words that sounded good.

Could the Loudoun all-Republican  Board  just possibly take a little time out from doing favors for commercial developers, promoters of very-minor-league baseball stadiums, and religious-zealot nut cases like “Chancellor” Mike Farris — and read what the grown-ups in their own party are pointing out on an issue that affects everyone in our society?

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