Drug Czar Wants More Offender Courts

White House drug czar John Walters (search) pressed Wednesday for expansion of drug courts to keep nonviolent offenders from crowding prisons and defended the administration's proposed cutbacks in other anti-drug programs.

A cornerstone of President Bush's 2005 drug control (search) strategy, which Walters released Wednesday in Miami, is a proposed $30.5 million increase for drug courts that would allow judges to place thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in treatment programs rather than doing hard time in prison. There are more than 1,600 of these courts in all 50 states.

"Drug courts work to cut down on the cycle of crime and self-destruction," Walters, the national drug policy director, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

According to the White House, a recent study of 17,000 drug court "graduates" found that only 16.4 percent had been arrested again within one year on new felony charges. Miami was the site of the nation's first drug court in 1989.

"We know that 80 percent of the drugs are consumed by 20 percent of the high-volume users," he said. "We have to reduce that part of the demand."

The proposal includes a total of $3.2 billion for various drug treatment programs, an increase of $141 million over last year. Despite increases envisioned in that area, the White House has come under fire from Capitol Hill for proposing cuts in numerous grant programs for state and local governments, including those that target high-intensity drug trafficking areas in cities and help schools teach youngsters to avoid drugs.

"It is fiscally irresponsible to drastically slash funding for key drug prevention and public safety initiatives that help save lives," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. "Our states cannot shoulder the responsibility of drug control on our own."

Walters defended the cutbacks as necessary to help reduce the federal budget deficit (search) and to move tight funds to areas proven to work more effectively.

"We need to focus on what works and we eliminate programs that don't work," he said.