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Drug Court Programs: Rehab over Imprisonment

Drug addiction and substance abuse often bring people into conflict with the law, leading to possible incarceration. During incarceration one may receive some measure of drug rehab, but all too often he is released with his addiction intact. Criminal judges see the same addicts over and over again in a continuing cycle of abuse, crime, and incarceration. Drug court programs seek to break this cycle by offering an alternative: a court-monitored period of drug detox and rehabilitation in place of prison time. Instead of branding addicts as criminals, drug court offers them a chance to seek help and avoid criminal records. It’s a radical change from criminalizing addiction, and not everyone agrees with the idea.

How Drug Courts Work

The main argument against drug court programs is that the addict committed a crime and therefore should be incarcerated like anyone else. This line of reasoning suggests drug courts offer an easy out for addicted criminals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Drug court programs have strict restrictions on who qualifies for the program. Possession of drugs and minor, drug-related offenses qualify for drug programs. Violent crimes remain within the framework of the criminal justice system. In addition, a drug court program requires frequent supervision of all participants in the program. Programs demand a strict drug rehab schedule, with frequent court appearances and drug tests. Those who fail to meet these requirements return to the criminal courts to face prosecution. Furthermore, drug court programs may last longer than criminal incarceration. Mississippi’s program, for instance, lasts three years. The program encourages each participant to have regular employment, complete the GED, and act as a productive member of society. Graduates of the program have a clean start when their drug conviction is removed from their records.

Drug Court Benefits

Cost is another common argument against drug programs, but this argument doesn’t hold water. The Mississippi drug program, for instance, costs $6 million a year. In contrast, incarcerating program participants would cost the state up to $33 million a year. Drug programs also reduce the risk of repeat offenses. Only 25 percent of drug court program graduates commit future offenses, compared to a 75 percent re-incarceration rate among addicts trapped in the criminal court system. Drug court helps people get the help they need while reducing the strain on the country’s overworked penal system. What do you think? Should we continue to prosecute addiction-related offenses in criminal court or offer addicts a chance to overcome their addiction? (Photo via Chris Potter)

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