An Evolving Prison Door? The Benefits of Drug Courts
So, here’s a complicated conundrum: many divisions of the federal government, including the Department of Health and Human Services, consider substance abuse and dependency a “public health problem.” After all, it’s widely advocated in the medical community and many U.S. government departments that addiction is a disease.
So when there is a segment of the population with a treatable illness, it makes sense to get them the medical attention they need, right? Wrong. Many federal drug laws and mandatory sentencing guidelines treat substance abusers in the same way they handle dealers and smugglers. They send them to jail, even though a better alternative might be to take advantage of Drug Courts.
In the United States, the vast majority of nonviolent drug offenders simply go to prison, where there is very little, and more often, no treatment for substance abuse issues. This is where drug courts are intervening and getting positive results.
These judicially supervised courts hold nonviolent drug addicted individuals in intensive substance abuse treatment in lieu of jail. While there, participants learn to stay clean and develop skills in order to lead productive lives. Drug courts are finding a balance between protecting society, and at the same time working to improve public health.
The unfortunate truth is that many people are in prison due to substance abuse issues. The numbers are higher than expected when considering that 1 out of 100 citizens of the United States are incarcerated. Nationwide, there are more prison inmates than in all of the 26 largest European nations combined.
Sobering Statistics About Drug and Alcohol Related Crime
- 50 percent of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted to drugs and alcohol
- At the time of arrest, 60 percent of individuals test positive for an illicit drug
- After release from prison, nearly 80 percent of individuals will commit a drug related offense
- Approximately 95 percent will continue to abuse drugs after their release
- Where treatment is available, 70 percent of participants drop out prematurely if they’re not regularly supervised
For more statistics visit the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) website. They also show information for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCRP).
Make no mistake, drug courts are not a free pass after committing a crime. Participants are held accountable by a judge who has received special training and education in substance abuse issues. Individuals are required to appear in court on a regular basis where a judge reviews their progress. They must submit to random drug testing, and are penalized if they fall short of their responsibilities, in some cases getting sent back to jail.
The stakes for society and drug offenders alike are high, but studies that track drug court participants are showing incredible results. Drug courts are not only far less expensive than incarcerating an individual, they also have a much higher success rate.
What are Positive Outcomes of Drug Courts?
- Offenders are six times more likely to stay in treatment long enough to get better
- Drug courts provide closer supervision and more comprehensive care than probation
- Parents in family drug court are more likely to attend and complete treatment
- Reports have shown that these programs reduce crime by as much as 35 percent
- Rates of recidivism are drastically decreased where there are drug court programs
Many states are now looking at making changes to the laws on the books, especially sentencing for non-violent crimes. In California, Prop 36 was approved in 2012, revising the state’s Three Strikes Law for non-violent offenders. Some estimates have placed the financial gain to the state above $150 million a year.
It’s clear that punishing substance abusers with prison sentences is not an effective form of rehabilitation. In fact, once released, individuals battling addiction may likely commit another crime and return to prison. Drug courts offer an alternative to this system, while guarding public safety and working to improve the lives of addicted individuals.
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