Home Opinion When Criminals Deserve a Second Chance: Drug Courts and How They Work

When Criminals Deserve a Second Chance: Drug Courts and How They Work


Drug courts have been around for more than two decades now. The fundamental premise of these courts is to give individuals with minor criminal history yet struggling with alcohol or drug addiction a second chance. Essentially, they allow drug criminals to change their lives by entering into rehab instead of going to prison. Successful completion of the treatment program enables these individuals to avoid prison time or criminal conviction or even both.

Who Are Drug Criminals?

Drug criminals are individuals that commit drug-related crimes. These are individuals that commit crimes that involve the use of addictive substances such as illicit drugs and alcohol. When such individuals are incarcerated, they may quit abusing the addictive substances since they can’t access them in prison. However, this abstinence from drug abuse may not last. In most cases, the incarcerated individuals go back to their previous situations after completing their prison sentence.

Law enforcement and drug treatment is generally a complex issue. Essentially, when individuals commit crimes they should be punished or held accountable. However, a small percentage of offenders meet the substance abuse disorders’ criteria and are allowed to undergo treatment for it. It’s for this reason that drug courts were established. These programs take an innovative approach by providing alternatives to lighter sentences or incarceration to individuals that agree to undergo complete drug rehabilitation.

How Drug Criminals Are Treated

Drug criminals use drug court facilities (Addiction Resource provides a full guide) to undergo rehabilitation for drug addiction. Basically, drug courts target different individuals depending on their jurisdictions. They also use varying resources to treat drug criminals. Ideally, a team of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and treatment specialists like professionals in drug rehabs and social workers manage these programs. Defendants’ family members are also allowed a chance to participate in events like graduation from the program and hearings.

In most cases, the courts employ programs that are aimed at curbing criminal recidivism, encouraging the defendants to work hard towards recovery from addiction, or reducing drug use. Basically, these programs are focused on helping the defendants to lead better, healthy lives without activities that lead to crimes that may cause them trouble with the drug court system.

Common programs of these courts include needs and risk assessment, ongoing monitoring, drug rehab, graduate incentives, and follow-up. Co-occurring mental health disorders treatment can also be part of these programs.

Drug Courts Eligibility Requirements

Research has proven the existence of a relationship between drug- or alcohol abuse and crime. This relationship suggests that addiction treatment can be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration. After all, incarceration is costly and the prison environment does not allow inmates to receive treatment. Drug courts allow offenders to undergo treatment for addiction at a non-adversarial environment.

But, to avoid being imprisoned or ordered to go to jail, offenders must meet the drug courts eligibility criteria. For instance, to qualify to enter drug court programs, offenders must:

  • Not have a criminal history
  • Face drug crime charges
  • Prove their drug addiction
  • Prove that they would benefit from undergoing treatment for drug addiction

It’s worth noting that only low-level felonies cases such as theft and shoplifting are considered for drug court programs. What’s more, these crimes must be tied to the drug addiction problem of the offender. Offenders with burglary, robbery, and gun cases are not considered for the programs of drug cases. Such offenders are mostly ordered to go to jail.

Currently, there are different types of drug courts. They include juvenile courts, family courts, veteran courts, DWI courts, tribal courts, co-occurring courts, re-entry courts, federal district, federal veterans, and campus courts. In total, there are more than 3,000 drug courts across the United States of America. Around half of them are targeted at juveniles and the other half at adults. Family drug courts target defendants that have child welfare cases pending. Their goal is to minimize family separation while maximizing recovery chances and enhancing parenting skills.

Effectiveness of Drug Courts and Their Implications

Drug court programs are based on the recognition of the great importance of drug rehabilitation in reducing crimes. Participants of drug courts’ programs enter the abeyance plea. This is a guilty plea on hold that allows the offender to enroll in the program of a drug court. The guilty plea is only withdrawn if the offender completes the program successfully and charges are dismissed or reduced. But, if the offender fails to complete the program, they still face imprisonment charges or sentencing.

Research has shown that the scheme of drug court is effective because participants are often less likely to commit crimes than similar offenders that are imprisoned or sentenced. What’s more, there is a less likelihood for participants to test positive for the drugs they abused than offenders in traditional correction systems.

The programs of drug courts incorporate drug rehabilitation. Therefore, they may cost more than incarcerating offenders in regular court systems. Nevertheless, reduction in re-offending rates enables drug courts to save more money per offender when compared to the cost of dealing with re-offenses in the long-term. Programs of drug courts also have a better outcome for juvenile cases than juvenile courts combined with intensive outpatient addiction treatment programs.

So, does this imply that drug courts are the answer to the drug addiction epidemic? Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a single solution. The fact that drug courts help in the reduction of re-offenses doesn’t mean they can single-handedly solve the drug addiction problem. Their effectiveness only implies that they can be a great alternative for some drug offenders that would otherwise be imprisoned. That’s because it emphasizes the use of drug rehabilitation to ensure long-term recovery which minimizes re-offenses.

The Bottom Line

Everybody deserves a second chance and that’s what drug courts offer drug criminals. Sending people that commit crimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol to prison doesn’t help the society. Drug courts return drug criminals that are ready to reform back to the community while providing the support they need to recover from addiction. This enables them to achieve and maintain sobriety without re-offending and this helps everyone.