Drug Courts as an Alternative Criminal Sentence

In some situations, jail is not the best answer. To help fight criminal activity and to deter it, lawmakers and prosecutors consider alternatives to the traditional penalty of assigning jail time to those convicted of crimes. One such alternative is drug court. There are a number of other alternatives to jail time.

Establishment of Drug Courts

Drug courts are typically established by statute. The state may have a goal to treat individuals who are chemically dependent on drugs in order to help curtail their criminal behavior. Such drug courts may be established to help adult offenders, as well as juvenile offenders. The goal of such programs is typically to break the cycle of addiction that continues to contribute to committing crimes repeatedly. By increasing the probability that the offender will break free from drugs and that the individual will remain drug free, drug courts can help eliminate the amount of time in which offenders will be in front of other courts. Additionally, society can benefit by lower needs for the health system and other costs associated with continued drug use and criminal activity.

Use of Drug Courts

The state statute may specify when such courts can be used. Sometimes the courts are only used in cases that directly involve drugs, such as possession charges. Others allow the courts to be used when a crime involved drugs or was motivated by drugs, such as theft. Still others allow the use for these types of courts when parents are accused of abuse or neglect of children.

Additionally, there are often specific requirements for when a person can use a drug court, such as not having any prior criminal offenses or being considered nonviolent. In some states, individuals can use drug court even if they have a criminal record so long as the crimes are considered misdemeanors or less serious. Those accused of trafficking or dealing are often not allowed to use such courts. High-level felons and individuals with serious records are also often excluded from using such drug courts. Drug courts may be able to establish their own local rules. Drug courts are typically considered intermediate punishments, so they have to balance the needs of the community. In order to use drug court, the offender must usually volunteer for it and agree that if he or she does not comply with all of the rules that he or she will enter a guilty plea and be subject to penalties of the full extent of the law.

Activities During Drug Courts

During drug court, the offender usually works for one to two years during which time he or she may attend regular court sessions, a 12-step program, education classes, GED classes, literacy classes, individual group or family therapy, housing services education, anger management classes or others, depending on individual progress and the offender’s needs.
Typically, the offender will work in conjunction with a probation officer, defense lawyer, district attorney, judge, case coordinator and treatment provider to help the defendant complete the program with success. In order to graduate from this type of program, the defendant is required to complete all phases of the program and remain clean for a certain period of time. He or she must usually complete an exit interview and pay for all costs associated with treatment.
Availability of Drug Courts

Drug courts are not available in all jurisdictions. They are usually established by state statute and are specific to certain states. Additionally, some states have restrictions regarding which counties choose to participate in the program.

Drug Court Statistics

Statistics support the viability of such programs. One study found a re-arrest rate of 41 percent for non-violent drug and alcohol offenders. However, this rate dropped to 18 percent for individuals who participated in drug court. Some counties had even lower rates such as 11 percent. For example, in one county, 50 people graduated from a drug court program between 2003 and 2011. Only six out of the 50 people were later arrested, four of which were drug-related.

Cost Savings

In addition to the personal benefits for the offender, drug courts also provide substantial savings to society. Since people are less likely to re-offend, the cost to jail these individuals is eliminated. Additionally, costs from emergency room visits due to accidental overdoses are eliminated. Court costs do not have to be paid. One court system calculated that drug courts save anywhere between $4,000 and $12,000 per offender.

Legal Assistance

Individuals who are facing potential drug charges should talk to their lawyer about the possibility of participating in drug court as an alternative to jail.

Provided by HG.org

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case.

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