Why Drug Courts Are Important for the US Judicial System

Drug courts combine treatment, sanctions, incentives, random, and mandatory drug testing, as well as aftercare to deal with offenders with drug-related cases. Their main goal is to divert the less serious charges of drug-involved offenders into treatment rather than prison. Today, about 78% of all property crimes and up to 77% of all public order offenses are linked to alcohol and drug abuse. These offenses cost the United States up to $74 billion every year in terms of the police, court, probation, prison, and parole services costs.

Offenders involved in substance abuse have a higher chance of recidivating than sober peers. According to drug courts proponents, the model can prevent recidivism and save the country a significant amount of money. Nevertheless, research is required to determine the effectiveness of drug courts.

Despite the question “Do drug courts really work?” is debatable, many find them a better way out. The benefits of drug courts should be determined to ascertain that they actually meet the goals of lowering substance abuse and recidivism rates while saving the country money. That’s way, their importance for the US judicial system can be gauged and the right amount of resources channeled towards them.

Overview of Drug Courts in the US

Drug courts refer to specialized court programs whose target are criminal offenders or defendants, parents, and juvenile offenders that have pending cases of child welfare with alcohol and drug dependency issues. According to the National Institute of Justice, there were more than 3,000 drug courts in the US by June 2015.

Most drug court models in the US target adults like the DWI offenders as well as veterans. There are also courts that address juvenile and child welfare. These courts are managed by multidisciplinary and non-adversarial teams that include defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, social workers, community corrections, and treatment professionals.

Stakeholders that represent law enforcement also provide support. The community and families are also encouraged to provide support by participating in programming, hearings, graduation and other events. Although there are different types of drug courts in terms of their program design, service resources, and target population, they have a similar model.

This comprehensive model involves:

  • Judicial interaction.
  • Offender assessment and screening of responsiveness, needs, and risks.
  • Monitoring and supervision
  • Incentives and graduated sanctions
  • Rehabilitation and treatment services

The goal is to help people that appear in the US judicial system with drug and alcohol abuse problem deal with it in a more holistic manner. Essentially, these courts help the country deal with the root cause of the offenses or crimes that relate to alcohol and drug abuse. They also facilitate finding of the most ideal solution that can break the drug abuse cycle.

Importance of Drug Courts

Among the benefits of drug courts to the US judicial system include:

Drug Abuse Reduction

Drug courts have programs that entail testing defendants or offenders for drug abuse on a regular basis. This ensures that drug courts supervisors have information on drug use by offenders continuously. Nationally, there is a reduction in drug abuse by the offenders that participate in the programs of drug courts. After graduating from these programs, most defendants stop abusing drugs altogether. This reduces the number of cases presented to the US judicial system relating to alcohol and drug abuse thereby saving it resources.

Recidivism Reduction

Programs of drug courts indicate a significant recidivism reduction among offenders that take part in them. Depending on the targeted population characteristics and social dysfunction degree, recidivism among participants of the programs of drug courts ranges between 5 and 28 percent or even below 4 percent for graduates.

Intensive Supervision

Monitoring and supervision combined with treatment services in the programs of drug courts are intensive and immediate than an offender can get in prison or before the programs. Defendants are under the supervision of the court shortly after they are arrested and at the beginning of the court’s program. The offender is also required to undergo treatment, random urinalysis and also appear before the judge of the drug court frequently and regularly. The intensity of doing this will only decrease when the participant demonstrates consistent and significant progress in treatment. There are immediate execution procedures instituted by drug courts if the bench warrants for the offenders that fail to show up for a court hearing. Such activities of the drug courts make operations of the US judicial system easier.

Dealing with Relapse and Consequences

Drug and alcohol abuse, as well as subsequent addiction, is not easy to deal with. It’s a chronic disorder with a tendency to recur. As such, a drug court program comprises of continuous supervision during the recovery period. This supervision involves frequent status hearings and urinalysis. Treatment providers present reports to the judge. Failure to comply or continue to use drugs can, therefore, be detected and a prompt response given. A response may include enhanced treatment, community service imposition, and more urinalysis frequency. Thus, drug courts provide the information required for the judicial system to take appropriate actions.

Integrated Treatment

Drug courts are run by people that understand that quitting drug abuse requires well-structured, coordinated, and comprehensive treatment programs. The underlying problems must be addressed and long-term recovery measures instituted. Although the primary objective of the programs of drug courts is sobriety, needs that relate to long-term rehabilitation of the participants should be addressed. Therefore, drug courts integrate different rehabilitation services to ensure effective and long-term recovery of the participants. In the long run, this reduces the number of drug-related cases that are presented to the judicial system.

Freeing Up Resources

Programs of drug courts enable the US judicial system and its agencies to allocate recourse more effectively. The services and staff that had been consumed by time-consuming and less serious drug cases can now be targeted at serious cases and offenders that present serious risks to the safety of the community. Additionally, these courts have led to freeing up of the time spent on preparation of cases and making appearances in courts.

Research indicates that people who participate in the programs of drug courts record a decrease in the possibility of being arrested within 12 to 18 months after graduating. What’s more, most offenders that participate in these programs are likely to stay arrest-free longer without community supervision than those not exposed to the programs. This is an indication that drug courts are generally important for the US judicial system.

Awais Ahmed is a student, blogger and digital marketer who helps small entrepreneurs to improve their online presence. He has a range of interests including technology, apps and small business.