‘However, it costs $31K a year to house a healthy inmate at DOC’
It costs an average of about $7,500 for anyone to successfully complete the CNMI Judiciary’s Drug Court Program. On the other hand, it costs $31,000 a year to house an inmate at the Department of Corrections in Susupe.
These were the figures Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio cited last Thursday when asked during the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means public hearing on the Judiciary’s budget.
Kim-Tenorio, who handles the CNMI Drug Court, said the cost for an individual to complete the Drug Court program depends on the participants because some of them require more drug testing, more treatment, etc. That cost averages at about $7,500, she said, but could go as high as $11,000. On the other hand, the program’s success rate is 85%.
“So the folks that are graduating—at least 85%— are not coming back into the criminal justice system,” Kim-Tenorio said.
In comparison, the judge said, she constantly asks DOC how much it spends to house inmates and they would tell her it’s $31,000 a year for a healthy inmate. “So when you think about incarcerating someone for 10 years, for example that’s $310,000 versus $7,500,” she said.
Kim-Tenorio believes the cost saving is even more because all of their participants have children. “I can think of maybe one or two that don’t have kids, but [almost all] have kids. They have parents, their siblings, people that have cut them out of their lives for so many years. And they’re making amends,” she said.
Kim-Tenorio said they make sure that participants get a job or get an education equivalent to GED (high school) if they don’t have it already. “We make sure that they have housing. And you know, we start them out with [Northern Marianas Housing Corp.], food stamps, Medicaid and so forth,” she said.
Eventually, not all of them but many of them find full-time jobs and they start supporting themselves and paying taxes, Tenorio said.
“So its impact is larger than just seeing all this one person,” the judge said.
House Committee on Ways and Means vice chair Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), who presided over the hearing, said in summary the Judiciary’s request was more than its 2019 budget level.
Blanco said the Judiciary is requesting an additional $5 million, which would include, among others, additional employees and funding, wage increases, and funding for the Mental Health Court, which is slated to be launched in July this year.