Drug court is an official government organization that provides rehabilitation to non-violent offenders through intensive treatment and monitoring. The drug court team includes the judge, district attorney, public defender, probation officer, treatment provider, and case manager who work together to develop a comprehensive substance use disorder treatment plan for each participant. Participants must complete all assigned tasks and appear before the judge on a regular basis to review their mental state and other drug dependency problems.

Since their inception in the late ’80s, controversy and debate has surrounded drug courts in America. But do drug courts work?

On one hand, drug court programs are championed for giving drug users opportunities to turn their lives around and become productive members of society, while also not criminalizing addiction and leaving prisons overcrowded.

On the other hand, drug court programs are criticized for being too soft on drug abusers, with underlying criminal offenses dismissed. It boils down to your stance on some key questions:

  1. Should drug users be criminally prosecuted?
  2. Will incarcerating drug users ensure that they do not use drugs again?
  3. Is the public put in danger by not incarcerating drug users?
  4. Are dependency drug courts effective in reducing drug use among participants?
  5. Does incarcerating drug users benefit the public more than attempting to rehab them through drug courts?
If you or a loved one is heading to court over drug use, alcohol abuse or mental disorders — Contact us right away at 772-774-3872.

A Brief History of Drug Courts in America

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the first drug court in America was in Miami-Dade County, FL in 1989. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges recognized they were repeatedly seeing many of the same faces related to drug use. This led them to believe that the traditional judicial system was not effectively correcting the problem and that they needed to find another way.

The solution they came up with was to combine court supervision with community-based addiction treatment in an effort to change the behavior of offenders.  This sparked a revolution in the treatment of drug offenders in the U.S. As of 2015, there were 3,133 drug courts in the U.S., with at least one in every state in the nation.

Though more thorough research is needed, and some of the results have been debated, research since 1989 largely paints a picture of success with the drug courts. They have been linked to lower recidivism, higher court compliance, reduced public costs and lower levels of addiction.

Treatment should reward prosocial behavior

75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free for at least two years following the program

Should drug users be criminally prosecuted

Drug courts save anywhere from $3,000 to $13,000 per person. This is based on reduced prison costs, repeat arrests and victimization

Treatment should target high-risk users

Without regular court supervision, 70 percent of drug users will drop out of treatment prematurely

The Drug Court Model

Drug courts are six times more likely to keep offenders in treatment long enough for it to be effective

The Drug Court Model

Just like all addiction rehab facilities are not created equally, neither are drug courts. This lack of standardization among drug courts throughout the nation makes accurately determining their success or failures more difficult. Several studies examining the efficacy of drug courts in America have highlighted that there is very little uniformity among programs from state to state and even county to county.

One study used results from different drug court programs to extrapolate a list of principles that all drug court programs should consider:

Family Drug Courts

Family drug courts are a special type of problem-solving court, implemented in jurisdictions across the United States as a way to improve outcomes for families involved with drug abuse and pending child welfare cases.

A family drug court program aims to keep children safe and reunify families by providing treatment and services tailored to the needs of each family. Parents are held accountable for their sobriety and participation in treatment. There is evidence that a family drug court program can improve outcomes for both parents and children. Studies have found that these justice programs can reduce parental drug use, improve parenting skills, and increase rates of family reunification.

Juvenile Courts

Juvenile drug treatment courts are specialized court docket programs that are designed to provide intensive supervision and juvenile justice to juvenile offenders in an effort to break the cycle of substance abuse and crime. Juvenile drug courts typically offer a variety of juvenile justice programs such as substance abuse treatment, counseling, life skills training, education and job assistance, and community service.

Do Drug Courts Work? The Myths of Coercive Addiction Treatment

Specialized court docket programs

One of the more commonly perpetrated misconceptions about addiction treatment is that a person cannot be successful if he or she is forced into addiction treatment. A frequently used refrain is that a person must first hit “rock-bottom” and then be self-motivated to seek treatment for rehab to be effective. Several studies have proven this incorrect.

First, what is “rock-bottom?” It certainly would not mean the same thing for each person, so assuming that treatment would be ineffective until some arbitrary milestone of substance abuse is hit is highly flawed. The “rock-bottom” myth is dangerous in the fact that it may make it so those closest to a chronic substance abuser may not say anything or step in because they think it will be futile. Also, allowing someone close to you to continue to go down the wrong path may lead to unemployment, divorce, financial ruin, overdose or mental or physical illness. Rehab is most successful following an early intervention.

Another flaw in the myth of coercive treatment is that individuals do not have the motivation to change. Remaining out of jail and free to enjoy life would seem to be highly motivating. If faced with a choice between incarceration or going to drug court, many would likely choose the latter. Adult drug courts are voluntary, as participants must agree on all requirements and consistently meet all obligations to avoid going to jail.

Do Drug Court Programs Work? Incarceration vs. Rehabilitation

Fundamentally, any controversy about adult drug courts boils down to a philosophical battle between incarceration and rehabilitation approaches. However, history and research have shown conclusively that you cannot incarcerate someone’s addiction away. You cannot expect a person to overcome addiction by simply throwing him or her in jail and not providing any other treatment. Evidence of this can be seen in the billions of dollars spent on the war on drugs, which has not resulted in any reduction of use or abuse, or in the abysmal national recidivism rate.

Many detractors of adult drug courts falsely believe that it gives participants a “get out of jail free” card of sorts. While drug courts and other rehabilitative approaches do help offenders avoid jail time, they focus on reforming them into more productive members of society. Rather than having the same people go in and out of jail over and over again, the rehab approach seeks to divert offenders from continuing drug use and other delinquent behavior.

Get Help From Drug Courts Treatment Professionals

The professionals at  Behavioral Health Centers have first-hand knowledge that rehab works and saves lives. We’ve helped countless drug court participants overcome their drug abuse problems and go on to lead happy and productive lives. We know that rehab is the best approach to dealing with addiction and we are ready to help you or someone you love find the path to sobriety. To learn more, call us today at 772-774-3872.

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