Boulder County will change the way it handles criminal cases involving repeat drug offenders this fall.

Addicts who violate probation by continuing to use drugs will be sent to drug court, rather than back to jail. They’ll make some 40 appearances before a judge in a year, each time with a reward or a sanction on the line. A longtime addict making his first appearance might be rewarded with movie tickets just for showing up on time for the court date and bringing a urine sample, even if that sample shows he’s still using. The aim is to close the revolving door that scoots drug addicts into jail, back into society and back again to jail.

This is a wise approach and one that has worked elsewhere in Colorado:

Roughly 30 percent of those put into drug court in Larimer County graduate 12 or 18 months later. That compares with a relapse rate of about 85 percent for addicts in the regular court system, Abrahamson said.

Expecting drug addicts to quit cold turkey, even with jail hanging over their heads, is not a reasonable expectation. Most drug users relapse at some point. Rather than put them in jail, it’s much more productive and economical for the rest of us to give them another chance and focus on treatment rather than punishment.