Are drug courts an effective alternative for non-violent offenders?

The first drug court was founded in 1989 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Judge Stanley Goldstein decided to try a public health approach instead of imprisoning of addicted people.

Many justice and treatment professionals were not satisfied with the system’s handling of addiction and mental illnesses.

So, by 2013, there were about 2,400 drug courts all over the United States. That year, the Justice Department saw a dramatic change after a speech of attorney general Eric Holder.

Mr. Holder claimed that “20th-century criminal justice solutions are inadequate to overcome our 21st-century challenges.” It was told that addicted low-level, non-violent offenders would no longer face the mandatory minimum sentences that had been around for decades. Nowadays, over 3,000 of drug courts are operating in the U.S. And this judicial system continues to develop.

Are drug courts an effective alternative for non-violent offenders?What is the purpose of a drug court?

Before weighing the drug courts pros and cons (check this), let’s delve into its essence. Drug courts are established to promote a unique partnership between the judiciary, prosecutors, addiction treatment providers, community corrections agencies, and other organizations. The purpose is to treat substance use disorder as a disease rather than a moral failing.

This program serves the next segments of the population:

  • repeat DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders;
  • parents whose child custody is at risk due to substance abuse,
  • juveniles facing criminal charges,
  • veterans struggling with the lingering effects of trauma.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) calls drug courts “the most successful intervention in our nation’s history” as they refer more people to treatment than any other intervention in the U.S. And those people show better treatment results because they are obliged to stay in rehabs to the end of the program. Such judicial mechanism is very beneficial for people who are abusing substances or have mental health disorders.

What are the peculiarities of mandatory treatment?

Drug courts achieve the goal of leading people to a sober life and stability instead of prison due to their specific features of work:

  • Defendants are early identified as eligible and promptly advised about the drug court program. Special attention is paid to young offenders. We won’t highlight the pros and cons of the juvenile justice system here, but youth courts also operate all over the country.
  • Drug courts give access to a wide range of rehabilitation services. Treatment modalities include detoxification, inpatient (residential) services, and outpatient services. The services always include cognitive behavioral therapy which is designed to prevent relapse and change the way offenders think and see the world.
  • There’s a regular judicial interaction with every participant.
  • Participants have to undergo random alcohol or drug tests to confirm abstinence. Sanctions for noncompliance and incentives for doing well are essential to changing behavior.
  • Achievements of the program are regularly monitored and evaluated in order to measure effectiveness.
  • Drug courts can watch over an offender for 3-12 months. If a participant successfully completes the ordered treatment course and doesn’t offend during this time, they get either a reduction of charge or a dismissal of the original charge. If the participant fails, he or she continues through the traditional case processing and often ends up with incarceration.
What are the benefits for criminals, the government, and society as a whole?

The results of court-ordered treatment are constantly measured and researched in order to check its efficacy. Drug courts program exists for 30 years and the question “Do drug courts really work?” remains the subject of debate. Indeed, it can be very helpful for offenders:

  • Participants get medically-assisted treatment which involves detoxification and behavioral therapy. That can help them stop drinking or taking drugs.
  • If an addict successfully completes a mandatory rehabilitation program, the court may remove the crime from the public record.
  • The program sometimes addresses participants’ additional needs, such as housing, education, job training, and mental health issues.

Here’re the benefits of drug courts for government and society:

  • Drug courts lead to a 10% reduction in re-offending among adults. Juvenile drug courts lead to a lower reduction – 5%. Both results are significant.

A study conducted by RTI International shows that drug courts participation leads to long-term impact in recidivism. It’s associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of being re-arrested in the 12–18 months after their first arrest.

  • Drug court programs are cost effective. Some may think that drug courts drain government funds. In the U.S., the cost for the mandatory treatment ranges between $900 and $2,500 per participant. Drug courts save at least $5,000 per participant, returning at least $2 for every $1 invested. This includes savings in jail bed days, health care, and lost work productivity.

Prosecutors also reported that drug court programs reduce police overtime, witness expenses, and grand jury expenses that are required when the cases proceed in the traditional court.

Female who enroll in drug court programs may deliver drug-free babies. Given that providing medical and social services for a drug-addicted infant can reach $250,000, it’s obviously worth the investment.

  • A significant percentage of participants either maintain their employment during treatment or become employed.
Does mandatory treatment always work?

It appears that drug courts program works best with non-violent offenders. It’s interesting that results largely depend on the type of substance which participants abuse or are addicted to. Mandatory treatment has a better effect on methamphetamine abusers than on those who abuse alcohol, marijuana, or crack (although all of them show substantial reductions in re-offending). Heroin addicts show small or no reduction in re-offending. Thus, drug-ordered treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

In general, drug courts have saved over 1.5 million lives and billions of dollars. Though the system may have some flaws, it’s rather new. The results are constantly monitored and officials are working on the improvement of mechanism.

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