Although the government’s “war on drugs” is not over, experts now recognize that punishing offenders with stiff prison sentences overcrowds the prison system without fixing the problem. By creating drug courts, they have developed a more effective way of fighting drug crimes.
According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, studies show that drug courts work. Law enforcement is less likely to re-arrest someone who has graduated from a drug court program. How does it work?
Health versus punishment
The premise of drug court is that substance abuse is a health condition as much as a criminal justice issue. To that end, nonviolent offenders receive an assessment that identifies addiction and indicates the level of help they need to overcome it.
A behavioral health professional develops treatment plans for participants geared toward recovery, but a prison sentence can make mental health problems worse.
Supervision and treatment
Anyone who has tried to overcome addiction without help may understand the difficulties of doing so alone. Drug court programs are a team effort that supports success. They provide court supervision and treatment so that participants have a plan, accountability and professional help to complete the program.
Supervision includes regular and random drug testing, mandatory court appearances, therapy and meetings with probation officers. The program typically lasts 18 months to two years.
Completing a drug court program prepares participants for a healthy life. The prosecution typically drops all or most charges, and graduates can move on with their lives without the sanctions and restrictions that often come with a criminal conviction. In many ways, drug court programs provide a fresh start.