After drawing overwhelming bipartisan support, a bill expanding drug treatment courts to every county in Missouri was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Parson.
The measure places all of Missouri’s treatment courts beneath the same umbrella, allowing a state commission to establish “best practice standards” for treatment courts.
Treatment courts, which include DWI and veterans treatment courts, provide offenders with an alternative to incarceration by allowing them to remain in their communities.
“The incarcerated level that we’re seeing — we can’t keep doing that,” Parson said during the signing at the Clay County Courthouse in Liberty. “Locking them up is not the answer.”
The first drug treatment court in Missouri was established in Jackson County, with help from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) when she was county prosecutor.
There are now 79 adult treatment courts, four juvenile treatment courts, 22 DWI courts, 13 family treatment courts and 12 veterans treatment courts in Missouri. Together, the programs treat more than 5,000 people annually.
More than 20,000 offenders have graduated from the courts, according to Missouri’s Drug Courts Coordinating Commission. The graduation rate exceeds 61 percent.
Parson said the bill will provide offenders with the treatment they need to be productive in their communities.
“That’s how we’ll make Missouri a better state,” he said.
Several studies have found that drug treatment courts help lower the recidivism rates of offenders when compared to those who are incarcerated, making it less likely that they will re-offend after they receive treatment.
According to data from the Drug Courts Coordinating Commission, drug treatment courts also are more cost effective, saving the state millions of dollars.
Parson originally vetoed the bill before sending it back to lawmakers and calling a special session for the bill to be improved. After a weeklong special session in September, the House passed the bill by a vote of 141-1.
State Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) said treatment courts are effective because they help people turn their lives around.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s good for the individual, but it’s also good for the community and our state,” she said after the signing ceremony at the courthouse.
Arthur said drug treatment courts offer a more flexible and compassionate solution that addresses the underlying issues driving people to commit crimes in the first place.
“At the end of the day, these aren't bad people,” she said. “They’re people who’ve made bad decisions. And we want to help them achieve their full potential and put them in a position where they can give back to their communities.”
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @celisa_mia.