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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

'Cocaine? No thanks!'

Boone County Courthouse
Jacob Fenston
Boone County courthouse.

Back in the late 1980s, while the nation was in the grips of the war on drugs, some courts started experimenting with alternative sentencing programs they hoped would be cheaper and more effective than incarceration.  This week, the most recent batch of offenders graduated from the Boone County drug court, which is seen as a national role-model.

Some twenty years after the first drug courts started appearing, there are now more than 2,000 around the country and more than 100 in Missouri.

Judge Christine Carpenter has overseen the Boone County drug court since 1999.

"At the beginning, when I started, we always felt like were on the defensive, that we were having to defend the fact that we were taking people into this program, and giving them treatment, rather than locking them up."

But over the years, success lowering recidivism rates and incarceration costs has helped drug courts go mainstream. Carpenter said only about one in ten drug court graduates ends up back behind bars, compared with about six in ten typical probationers. 

"If you can complete the program, you're probably going to be in pretty good shape."

It's also a lot cheaper for the state. Missouri spends about $16,000 per inmate per year; drug court costs less than half of that.

This week, 11 people graduated from the Boone County drug court.