The Sad Reality

The U.S. has incarcerated roughly 2.4 million people today. Many of these inmates are not dangerous criminals. They are drug addicts. 

It is common for drug addicts to be convicted of crimes and sent to jail. After being released, they stand in front of the judge again in just a few weeks or months. These people cycle in and out of jail perpetually. The national statistic is that after 2 years, 60% of these types of offenders will re-offend.

A Hopeful Solution

The criminal justice system wasn’t created to treat substance use disorders. Regardless, the criminal justice system and drug addiction go hand in hand in this society.

Drug court is a place where justice and treatment meet. The first drug court started functioning in 1989. Now there are over 2,500 drug courts across the nation. 

Judge Thomas Horne said, “Drug courts are the single most powerful and innovative tool available to the criminal justice system in the fight against drug abuse.”

How Drug Court Works

Drug courts take a collaborative approach to justice. The judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, social service workers, treatment providers and mental health experts all work together to help participants find lasting recovery from addiction. 

Drug court is voluntary. Participants have to fill out an application. To qualify for drug court, participants must be charged or convicted of a drug crime or a related crime. Participants are admitted who are deemed likely to reoffend with a verified history of severe substance abuse.

People receive praise from the judge and relaxed restrictions for complying with drug court consistently. If there is non-compliance, the court will sanction the participant. Sanctions include writing essays or increased restrictions. Success requires hard work and dedication from the participants. If someone doesn’t complete the program, they will go through the criminal justice system as normal. The criminal justice system will always give harsher punishments for non-compliance.

The national drug court resource center lists the following as common elements of drug courts throughout the country. 

  • Participation over a series of months or years to establish and maintain long-term recovery strategies
  • Frequent and random drug tests
  • Clinical treatment for substance use disorders
  • Individualized case management services, connecting participants to employment opportunities, community service, pro-social activities, and education
  • Required frequent appearances in court
  • Rewards for maintaining treatment plans and sanctions for failure to meet obligations
  • Support and encouragement from the drug court team

Is drug court effective?

Yes. Drug courts have 4 goals.

  1. Increase Public Safety. A government report states, “A review of five independent meta‐analyses concluded that drug courts significantly reduce crime by an average of 8 to 26 percentage points; well‐administered drug courts were found to reduce crime rates by as much as 35 percent, compared to traditional case dispositions.”
  2. Reduce Criminal Recidivism. Remember that the national statistic is that after 2 years, 60% of all offenders will reoffend. With drug court, that number is 28%
  3. Improve quality of offender’s lives. There are countless drug court success stories. Watch this Ted Talk to hear about 3.
  4. Save Money. A decade long study showed that “reduced recidivism and other long term program outcomes resulted in public savings of $6744 on average per participant.” The white house stated that “every one dollar spent on drug court saves two dollars in the criminal justice system alone.

To learn more about drug court, visit the National Drug Court Resource Center. For a list of Utah Drug Courts, click here.

If you are charged with a drug related crime, call an attorney.

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