Across centuries, different governments have been struggling to reduce the availability of illicit drugs and substances. For this reason, drug policies in the United States aimed at strengthening law enforcement agencies to combat the drug and substance abuse problem. While the government struggles to reduce the availability and use of illicit drugs, the use and demand for illegal drugs has been increasing. The increasing number of drug offenders has raised the need for another solution, which gave birth to the drug courts (Christine and Matthew 292). Drug courts mark a considerable approach in the struggle to combat drug and substance abuse. In this view, this paper gives a clear description and analysis of the drug court program since its introduction in the 1980s.
The establishment and implementation of a program elicit reactions from proponents and opponents. This paper has taken a stringent analysis without disregarding both opinions of the proponents and opponents of the drug court program. The proponents of the drug courts have strong supporting arguments. They state that drug courts form the best centers for recovery and reformation of offenders. They also state that the centers enable the reduction of recidivism. The proponents further state that the close supervision of offenders enhances their rehabilitation. According to proponents of the program, the drug centers provide the best solution for combating drug-related crime (Christine and Hiller 303). The non-violent offenders would change their behaviors and become good citizens, which would result in their dismissal or reduction of their criminal charges.
On the other hand, opponents of the drug court program feel that the program is too expensive to implement and maintain. They argue that the associated cost would prove a burden to the government. According to the opponents, the government would rather employ the money into some other useful projects. They argue out that there is no clear eligibility criterion for the drug court candidates. There is a possibility of having violent criminals getting their way into the drug courts to access escape routes. Once the non-violent and violent offenders interact, they learn new skills from each other and thus end up being a threat to the security of the society. Therefore, the establishment and implementation of the drug court program need consideration of both opposing and supporting arguments.
The establishment of drug courts in the United States has become a subject of debate among policy-makers and researchers. In particular, they try to determine whether the costs of implementing this program are justified (Lessenger and Roper 7). Additionally, they pay attention to the potential risks associated with this strategy. This paper is aimed at discussing the benefits that such institutions can bring as well as the potential challenges that are associated with them. Overall, arguments show that drug courts are important in the rehabilitation of non-violent offenders and the reduction of crime rates.
Drug courts: the definition of the policy and its rationales
Overall, drug courts are the organizations that are supposed to help drug addicts to integrate themselves in the community (Lessenger and Roper 7). These institutions work with people who did not commit violent crimes (Franco 20). The main rationale for creating these organizations is to avoid the excessive criminalization of people who may struggle with drug abuse. In many cases, these people are incarcerated, while it is more rational to provide an effective treatment to them. Furthermore, these institutions are supposed to decrease the number of cases in criminal courts because the legal professionals working in these institutions cannot cope with the growing number of criminal cases (Lessenger and Roper 7).
Finally, one should take into account such a problem as the overpopulation of many prisons in the country. For example, in 2006, drug offenders comprise approximately 20 percent of the prison population (Franco 24). Therefore, these organizations are supposed to alleviate this problem. The drug courts have several criteria according to which their work is accessed. Firstly, they pay attention to the percentage of people who were able to get rid of their dependence on substances (Franco 24). Furthermore, these organizations are supposed to ensure that offenders are not engaged in various forms of deviant behavior or crime. Moreover, researchers usually compare the effectiveness of such institutions with other rehabilitation programs that are not related to drug courts (Franco 36). These are the main aspects that should be considered by policy-makers.
Drug Courts as a Means of Reducing or Dismissing Criminal Charges
Drug courts are court dockets that target non-violent offenders with issues of drug and substance abuse (Douglass 4). With the intensive court supervision for the offenders, mandatory drug testing from time to time and the treatment from drugs and substances, the offenders become reformed. In general, the addiction problems, cycles and the desire to consume substances are somewhat solved. The voluntary exercise changes the general behavior of the offender. The offender obtains a second chance to live a life free from drugs. An eligible defendant who agrees to adhere to the requirements of the program stands a chance to complete the program successfully. Such a candidate is completely reformed and would be dismissed or have a reduced charge of the crimes committed. There is a need for drug court’s participants to comply with the set rules and regulations, failure to which they face serious sanctions.
It is possible to provide several arguments that can be used to support such policies. In particular, one should point out that a significant proportion of people who passed through drug courts, were able to recover from substance abuse. It can be mentioned that approximately 60 percent of people who take part in the programs offered by drug courts, can recover from substance dependence (Franco 37). Furthermore, drug courts seem to be more effective in comparison with the rehabilitation programs which were implemented earlier (Franco 37). There is another aspect that should be taken into consideration. In particular, the reduced rates of recidivism can save the government from $ 1,000 to $ 15,000 per every person who completed the rehabilitation program (Franco 36). These estimations are based on the premise that a recidivist offense or crime can result in more significant expenses for the government, even with comparison with the cost of rehabilitation programs. Among the possible expenses, one can single out those that are related to legal proceedings as well as the maintenance of a person in prison. More importantly, the treatment that offenders receive is instrumental in reducing the risks to public safety (DeVall 82). Hence, legislators should not disregard these advantages.
Again, one should emphasize the idea that drug courts are more effective when there is close monitoring of a person’s participation in the rehabilitation program. For example, one can pay close attention to such a factor as the frequency of drug testing since, in this way, one can better identify individuals who are at risk of being re-arrested (Regoli 328). Additionally, the efficiency of drug courts depends on the speed of their reaction to non-compliance cases. If they respond as soon as possible, individuals are less likely to return to drugs or commit criminal acts (Regoli 328). Largely, the effectiveness of such organizations depends on the skills of professionals who work in these organizations. This explains why drug courts in different jurisdictions vary so much in terms of recovery rates. Apart from that, one should not disregard the characteristics of an offender. One should focus on such variables as income level, or family status (Regoli 328). For instance, an individual is more likely to complete the rehabilitation programs, when he/she can rely on the support of the family. These factors are important for the effective functioning of drug courts.
It is possible to say that drug courts are more successful in preventing crime because they include people with various skills and competences. For example, one can speak about the cooperation between healthcare professionals, lawyers, and social workers. These look at the same problem from different perspectives, and they can better identify the pitfalls that a drug offender should avoid. As noted before, these organizations achieve good results because they closely monitor the behavior of a person.
Unclear Eligibility Criteria for the Drug Court’s Participants
The problem of eligibility of candidates remains a great concern since some offenders who desire to join the program have not been successful. This issue has persistently existed since 1989 when the first drug court was established. The program essentially targets to reform non-violent offenders. However, the number of drug-abusing offenders taking part in the program is unclear. There are reported cases of unsuccessful completion of the program. If at all the candidates chosen were non-violent, all of them would complete the program successfully without problems. There is a suspicion that offenders would pretend to be non-violent yet they are real criminals. Offenders would take advantage of the program to have their criminal charges reduced or dismissed. Research shows that only a small number of eligible participants take part in these drug treatment programs while the greater number comprise of pretenders.
Unattainable Goals of the Drug Courts
One of the aims of the drug courts is to reduce recidivism. It is noteworthy that a program targeting individuals with a high potential of reoffending would achieve this goal very effectively. However, the drug courts do not aim at reforming such people but target non-violent offenders. The non-violent offenders are calm and simple to deal with, unlike the violent offenders who do not obtain eligibility to join the drug courts. The drug courts should thus change their goal and aim at reforming violent offenders as well (National Institute of Corrections 36). A drug court aiming at rehabilitating high-risk individuals would work effectively in reducing recidivism as compared to a drug court targeting low-risk individuals.
Tedious Judicial Monitoring Exercise in Drug Courts
Drug courts need tireless efforts by trained personnel. Every drug court needs competent, patient, and collaborative teams (National Institute on Drug Abuse 1). These teams need to comprise of duly trained officials from the criminal justice and treatment department. Owning such individuals in a drug court is very expensive due to the tedious work of dealing with drug offenders. Drug courts rely on sacrifices that public defenders, volunteers, prosecutors, and the judiciaries provide. These people are highly valued people with invaluable duties to perform in the courts. The judges have to involve themselves actively in monitoring the participant’s progress. Other than that, there is also a requirement that the drug court’s participants should regularly appear before a judge to defend themselves, they ought to undergo urine tests and regular treatments. The whole process is tedious, hectic, and time-consuming. The bitter part of it is that despite the efforts, the offenders may come out worse than the way they were when joining the drug court.
Certainly, one should take into account such this strategy is associated with significant costs. For example, the government has to spend $1.023 billion to provide effective treatment to every person who can be eligible for such a program (Franco 46). Sometimes, researchers attribute these costs to the complex bureaucracy of drug courts (Regoli 328; Lucero 128). In their opinion, the structure of such institutions should be more closely evaluated since in very often they cannot properly react to non-compliance cases. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that the costs of recidivist crimes could be even more significant, especially if one is speaking about the incarceration of a person. Furthermore, opponents of the drug court criticize that by releasing non-violent drug offenders, courts can pose a threat to public safety (DeVall 82).
Hence, public threat is one of the concerns that are expressed by the critics of this strategy. However, the empirical findings suggest that offenders, who cooperate with drug courts, are less likely to be re-arrested (DeVall 82). Apart from that, the opponents of this policy can argue that despite the establishment of drug courts, the number of offenses related to substance abuse only increases. This argument can be accepted only to a certain degree because one should take into account that the population of the country is also growing at a constant rate. Therefore, the number of various crimes can also increase. So, this tendency cannot be attributed to the alleged inefficiency of drug courts.
Recommendations and Suggestions for Improvement
Another issue that should be addressed is the eligibility criteria. As has been noted before, these organizations interact only with people who could commit only minor misdemeanors. Yet, these individuals were not guilty of felonies. It seems that such a strategy is quite understandable because people, who committed serious crimes, can indeed pose a threat to the public. Nevertheless, I would have suggested even people, who have been imprisoned, should be eligible for various rehabilitation programs. This suggestion is important because many former prisoners face the same difficulties after their release. In many cases, they resume their drug use and commit felonies in the future. Thus, policy-makers should note that a significant number of offenders experience unsuccessful rehabilitation. Furthermore, people working in drug courts should pay attention to such issues as the response to non-compliance cases and the frequency of testing to reduce the risk of recidivism.
Despite the opposing arguments that hold weight, drug courts are very important in rehabilitating drug offenders (National Criminal Justice Reference Service 5). Some recommendations need consideration to address the issue of the opponents. Drug courts should introduce a system of rehabilitating the high-risk offenders instead of just aiming at the non-violent offenders. Despite the difficulties that would arise in dealing with high-risk offenders, the results would be efficient in dealing with the goal of reduced recidivism. In so doing, the drug courts should have different rooms for violent and non-violent offenders. This would reduce the risk associated with the mingling of the non-violent offenders and violent offenders. This approach would lead to the rehabilitation of offenders into helpful people in the society. The drug courts can introduce short course trainings to the offenders so that they can become useful people in society upon their release.
Even though considerable criticisms of drug court exists, in my opinion, the existence of drug courts is vital for averting many crimes crime. The criminal justice system has been facing increasing cases of crime, which relates to the drug and substance abuse. Addicts of drugs and other substances are prone to commit crime in the society and thus threaten the safety of other people. As said before, addicts do not always receive the support of the community; in fact, they are always marginalized by the society. The task of drug courts is to reduce the danger of drug recidivism among many people. Certainly, one should not forget about the expenses that this policy requires; nevertheless, these costs are less significant, in comparison with the expenses that are related to the re-arrest of offenders and their incarceration.
Christine, Saum and Matthew Hiller. “Should Violent Offenders Be Excluded From Drug Court Participation?: An Examination of Recidivism of Violent and Nonviolent Drug Court Participants.” Criminal Justice Review 33.3 (2008): 302-305. Print
DeVall, Kristen. The Theory and Practice of Drug Courts: Wolves in Sheep Clothing?Boston: ProQuest, 2008. Print.
Douglass, Marlow. “Integrating Substance Abuse Treatment and Criminal Justice Supervision.” Science and Practice Perspectives 1.1 (2003): 1-4. Print.
Franco, Celinda. “Drug Courts: Background, Effectiveness And Policy Issues For Congress.” Journal of Current Issues in Crime, Law & Law Enforcement 4.2 (2011): 19-50. Print
Lessenger, James, and G. Roper. Drug Courts: A New Approach to Treatment and Rehabilitation, New York: Springer, 2010. Print.
Lucero, Katherine. Family Drug Courts: An Innovation of Transformation, Boston: Balboa Press, 2012. Print.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Institutionalizing Drug Courts: A Focus Group Meeting Report. 2002. Web.
National Institute of Corrections. Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population. 2012. Web.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations – A Research-Based Guide. 2012. Web.
Regoli, Robert. Delinquency in Society, New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011. Print.