The Hidden Cost of the Disease: Fines, Fees, and Costs Assessed on Persons with Alleged Substance Use Disorder
15 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2020
Date Written: January 23, 2020
The age-old adage “crime doesn’t pay” is true in more ways than one. This article stems from two years of field work in problem-solving treatment courts; circuit, district, and federal courts; addiction treatment centers; and probation offices throughout the State of Michigan. Persons experiencing substance use disorder (SUD) can rapidly amass criminal charges on any given day, given that the private use of controlled substances is illegal, as is driving while intoxicated. These repeated behaviors can, and frequently do, culminate in incarceration, supervision (e.g., probation or parole), and hefty fines and fees. Moreover, persons experiencing SUD are far from uncommon: overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and in 2018, focus groups with state district court judges in Michigan estimated that four out of every five criminal defendants were experiencing problematic substance use, illuminating the overwhelming degree to which SUD permeates our criminal justice system. Practitioners, academics, and policymakers involved with the justice system ought to be concerned with the costs assessed in SUD cases because they can be potentially expensive to collect, excruciatingly burdensome on vulnerable people involved with the justice system trying to maintain sobriety and re-enter society, and present a generally inefficient method of punishment when the cost of collection outweighs the total amount which is ultimately collected by the state. While crime doesn’t pay generally, it is particularly costly for vulnerable defendants experiencing SUD. Identifying best practices for supervision of SUD offenders might present avenues to improve the cost effectiveness and efficiency of fines in ways that actually reduce subsequent offending—as fines were meant to do.
Keywords: public law, opioids, economics, supervision, substance use disorder
JEL Classification: K20, K36, K42, H30, H12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation