Drug Courts in the United States


Drug courts in The United States have three main goals which are rehabilitating participants, reducing the use of drugs and reducing recidivism. Drug courts and treatment programs are more effective then the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. The use of drug courts are effectively fighting the budget problems that US criminal justice system are experiencing due to the cost of treatment programs compared to the cost of incarceration.

Drug courts can be defined as "special court calendars or dockets designed to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among nonviolent, substance abusing offenders by increasing their likelihood for successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicially supervised treatment; mandatory periodic drug testing; and the use of appropriate sanctions and other rehabilitation services" (Drug Courts: Overview of Growth, Characteristics, and Results, Government Accountability Office, 1997). Participants for drug courts undergo frequent court appearances, incentives, sanctions, long term treatment and counseling. When treatment programs are successfully completed the participant may get their charges dismissed or reduced. Drug courts not only put legal obligations on drug offenders but the mandatory treatment and counseling they receive grant the participants the necessary tools to rebuild their lives.

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance there were 2,038 fully operating drug courts in The Untied States and 226 that were in the planning stages, as of July 2009. A statistic created by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2001 stated that between the years of 1984 and 1999 the number of defendants charged with a drug offense in the Federal courts increased from 11,854 to 29,306. Due to the increase in drug offenses the first drug court was created in1989 in Miami Florida when Judge Herbert M. Klein was troubled by the disabling effects that drug offenses were wreaking the Dade County Courts. Judge Klein became determined to “solve the problem of large numbers of people on drugs” (Miami’s Drug Court: A Different Approach,1993)

Drug Courts across The United States share three primary goals. The first is to reduce recidivism or reduce the revolving door of crime and drugs by providing treatment to drug-addicted criminal offenders. Only 3.3% of participants who completed the treatment programs successfully were rearrested in the first six months after being released compared to the 12.1% of inmates who did not receive treatment. Compared with other offenders, drug court participants have lower recidivism rates, even if they do not finish the program.

The second goal is to reduce substance abuse among participants. Drug court participants are less likely to use drugs after completing the treatment programs compared to drug users who are incarcerated and do not participate in treatment programs.20.5% of participants in the drug treatment programs used drugs within six months after being released. 36.7% of drug violators who were incarcerated used drugs within six months of being released.

The third goal is to rehabilitate participants by successfully completing the treatment programs. Participants who went through a drug court are 15% less likely to repeat their offences than those who did not go through a specialized drug court. Drug court participants report that interactions with the judge are one of the important influences on the experience they have while in the program.

More drug courts are being established to deal with first and second offenders rather than the normal use of the criminal justice system. The motivation has been more of a financial necessity than the need to make America drug free. While analyses on the effectiveness of drug courts are still ongoing, research indicates that drug courts can reduce recidivism and promote other positive outcomes such as saving the country money. Drug treatment programs are less expensive then long term incarceration. In 1998 there were 417,784 drug offenders in federal prison, state prison, and jail. Also in 1998 it was estimated that of the $38 billion were spent on corrections that year more than $30 billion was spent incarcerating individuals who had a history of drug or alcohol abuse, were convicted of drug or alcohol violations, were using drugs or alcohol at the time of their crimes, or had committed their crimes to get money to buy drugs.

Drug courts are more cost effective then the standard US courts. Drug courts free up criminal justice recourses to use against violent and other serious criminal offences. On average it cost $5,928 for one person to complete a drug treatment program. It cost more than $20,000 to incarcerate a person for one year. The Average sentence for drug trafficking is 3.5 years, which is a total of $70,000, saving the country $64,072.

Drug courts are effectively accomplishing there three primary goals of reducing recidivism, reducing substance abuse among participants and rehabilitate participants, while also saving billions of dollars to be used against serious and violent criminals.

In the Spotlight. (2010). Retrieved November 06, 2010 from National Criminal Justice Reference Service: http://www.ncjrs.gov.

Drug Treatment in the Criminal Justice System. (2008). Retrieved November 04, 2010 from Office of National Drug Control Policy: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.

Drug Court Review. (2010). Retrieved November 01, 2010 from National Drug Court Institution: http://www.ndci.org.

Drug Courts. (2010). Retrieved November 06, 2010 from Minnesota Judicial Branch: http://www.mncourts.gov/.

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