Martin Sheen advocates for Drug Courts at Senate hearing

Actor Martin Sheen addresses an audience before a screening of the film "Halfway Home," in Boston, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. The screening is part of a conference on neuroscience and brain research and the treatment of brain disorders called "One Mind for Research," co-chaired by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Updated 5:10 p.m. ET

Former West Wing actor Martin Sheen on Tuesday pushed for Congress to allocate $89 million to fund a program aimed at rehabilitating drug addicts instead of incarcerating them.

The father of Charlie Sheen told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security he has seen firsthand the potential of the program, known as Drug Courts, while working with them in several California cities, including Compton, Berkeley and Oakland.

Sheen did not mention his high-profile son, who has had his own widely publicized problems with drugs.

"I am not a former president of the United States," Sheen said, "though I played one on TV."

The actor emphasized that drug courts give addicts a new lease on life and called drug addicts "this country's greatest untapped resource."

"Imagine for a moment the impact we could have if Drug Courts were available to all 1.2 million addicted individuals who would be best served by Drug Courts if one were available," Sheen said. "Imagine the impact of 1.2 million people making up for lost time in their community and serving their families and their country."

In 1996, Sheen started a sober living house run in Berkeley run by Drug Court graduates, which has since expanded to six houses that have helped 6,000 people.

As federal and state budget get cut back, Drug Courts need to take a more prominent role in our criminal justice system because of their cost saving potential, according to Douglas Marlowe, the Chief of Science, Law & Policy for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

"The way we do it now is incarceration, which has no affect," Marlowe said, "but at least has the saving grace of being enormously expensive."

For every dollar invested in Drug Courts, the criminal justice system receives $2.21 in direct benefits, according to Marlowe. Additionally, they have indirect benefits for drug abuse and domestic violence, which are well supported by scientific evidence.

"There are people in this room taking medication that has less evidence of success than drug courts," Marlowe said.

David Muhlhausen, a research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, criticized the scientific studies supporting Drug Courts, noting that many fall short of scientific rigor and fail to use random samples. Individuals motivated to escape addiction will be more willing to participate in the studies, potentially skewing the results, he said.