Drug Courts Not Effective, Studies Say
(03/30/2011)

Washington, D.C. Criminal drug courts, a 22-year-old strategy to keep low-level drug offenders out of the justice system, are not as effective as they were previously thought to be, according to joint studies released by the Justice Policy Institute and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Data does not support claims that people with substance-abuse problems need the push of judicial supervision to succeed in kicking their habits, according to the reports.

Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show little difference in success for people who are referred to treatment through criminal justice agencies and those who are referred from other sources, the report states.

Today, the United States and its territories operate 2,559 drug-treatment courts and another 1,219 problem-solving courts. Over 55,000 people enter these drug courts annually. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University estimates that states have spent $138 million on drug courts, and the federal government has spent an additional $40 million.

Drug courts were meant to decrease the number of people in prison for drug offenses but critics claim they only serve to divert people away from other alternatives to prison, rather than from prison itself.

Judge Morris B. Hoffman at the Denver District Court found the number of drug filings increased three times in the two years following the implementation of drug courts.

For many low-income addicts, involvement in the criminal justice system is the only way to access treatment for substance abuse disorders because it is not readily available in the community, according to the reports.

But individuals are typically kicked out of drug court for relapsing, which in community organizations is deemed a normal part of the process and is treated with more intensive care. Once they are kicked out of drug court, their criminal sentences tend to be harsher.

Study authors said drug treatment in the community can reduce the potential for a person to relapse by 8.3 percent and benefits to victims and taxpayers in terms of reduced crime for every dollar spent.

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