Denver launched its new and improved Drug Court today.

The new drug court was described as a way to reduce demand on the city’s overcrowded jail and allow minor drug offenders to get into treatment quickly and efficiently. Denver first launched a drug court in 1994, but the program was scaled back a few years ago as federal funding dwindled. The new version – for which the city will provide $1.2 million a year – targets lesser drug offenders who aren’t dealers or violent, said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. “This is a court where we are selecting … people that have addictions – people that we can hopefully help get out of the criminal justice system,” he said.

How it works:

Once an offender is sentenced to drug court supervision, he or she is required to submit to random drug tests, attend treatment and regular court reviews, perform public service and pay fees and costs. Those participating can graduate within nine months if they meet the conditions of their probation.

The advantages of such a program should be obvious. As Mayor Hickenlooper said today, it’s cheaper to treat people than incarcerate them, and it gives people a second chance. Drug addiction is an illness. No one grows up aspiring to be a drug addict. It happens. The best thing we can do is treat the addiction, not punish it, and help these people regain a productive life. We’ll all be better off for it.