If those 39 people had spent the year in prison, the cost to taxpayers would have been something like $2 million or more.
Lawlor says Connecticut is working hard to keep more low-level, non-violent drug offenders out of prison, and that those efforts are successful. He says such reforms as changes in sentencing laws and increasing emphasis on alternatives to prison terms are the reason.
"Our prison population is dropping fast," he points out, adding that "100 percent of the drop in our prison population in the past five years has involved blacks and Hispanics."
Connecticut's prison population peaked in 2008 at more than 19,400 inmates. By July 2012, the number was down to 16,591, a drop of 14.5 percent. The number of minority inmates was reduced by 2,467, according to corrections department figures.
"It's not because of just one thing," Lawlor says of Connecticut's prison population reduction, "it's because of a thousand different things."
Lawlor doesn't have a firm answer to the question of whether the state should invest more to expand its relatively tiny version of drug courts. "It's not clear you can save any more" from an expansion, he says.
One reason for that lack of clarity is that no one has apparently done any studies of how well Connecticut's "drug intervention dockets" work compared to traditional drug courts. D'Orsi says he's not aware of any such research. Chase and Decker Morris also say they've not heard of any study looking at the way Connecticut handles these non-violent drug cases.
Decker Morris doesn't think Connecticut needs to follow the lead of other states when it comes to an expanded drug court system, but she's convinced the present part-time program isn't what's needed.
"Simply having a one-day session… is not a very effective way to do it," she says. Decker Morris says the reason drug courts are so successful is that they push drug offenders into programs (like addiction rehab, mental health treatment, medical care, or education) that focus on the causes behind their crimes.
Using the regular court staff and system to handle these low-level cases is "still going to be using the basic criminal court house model," Decker Morris argues. "That's not what is effective in dealing with these problems."
Chase, who was a dedicated drug court public defender when the old system was running in New Haven, says the differences today are dramatic.
He recalls one case of a drug-addicted 29-year-old woman who entered the old drug court program.
She'd lost her front teeth as a child and the court ordered new false teeth for her, remembers Chase. The woman was enrolled in basic hygiene and health education courses and the court also got her into a cooking class because she had no idea how to cook a decent meal for herself.
"They provided her the tools for coping with a sober life after drug court," Chase says. "You'd never find that going on now."
According to Chase, the state's current "drug intervention docket" system simply doesn't have the resources to do the same sort of intensive monitoring as before, and the judges don't have as much leeway to reward defendants who successfully complete the program by completely dropping charges against them.
"There's far less of a carrot," Chase says.
"I'm not going to say they [Connecticut's criminal justice officials] are not doing anything," adds Chase. "But you kind of get what you pay for."
Connecticut seems to be paying as little as possible for a program that — properly funded — might save this money-strapped state tens of millions of dollars a year.