Drug Court Shows Positive Results, But Further Research Needed

Drug Court Shows Positive Results, But Further Research Needed

For drug offenders and substance abusers with a non-violent record, drug court can mean a choice: admit guilt, and go into closely monitored substance abuse treatment; or deny guilt and head straight to incarceration. Drug courts are designed to help end the cycle of repeated offenses by offering substance abuse treatment for offenders with non-violent crimes. A report from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), part of the U.S. Department of Justice, suggests the courts have made positive strides – but further research is needed to determine their overall effects.

Meant to focus on addiction-based problems for offenders as part of the nation’s attack on drugs, drug courts were established in the 1980s. The Department of Justice says people who abuse drugs are more likely to return to the crime than any other offender, and that once they reach parole, about two-thirds of drug offenders will abuse drugs again or be found in possession.

While an offender is participating in a drug court program, there is a suspension of charges. These charges can ultimately be modified or even dismissed, determined by the offender’s participation in the drug court program. Proponents say the programs work because they lessen the chances that the offender will return to old habits, using recovery-based measures – even for offenders with repeated drug-related crimes.
 

The report from the NIJ says that recidivism rates were reduced through drug court programs, though it is unknown exactly which aspects of the program had the strongest effect. The report also recommends that treatment be focused on substance abuse theories, and that it should allow program participants to learn cognitive-based strategies for working through recovery. Past participants of drug court have said one-on-one interaction with the judge has made a significant impact on their success.

The report also recommends that all members of a participant’s drug court team be involved with plans for treatment, types of service delivered and reports of results. The NIJ suggests that teams learn more about addiction practice and treatment, especially toward helping participants avoid relapse, in order to offer the most benefit for the program.

When it comes to helping teens and young adults with a history of substance abuse problems, the NIJ report indicated that more exploration is needed to find out whether intervention-based approaches are more effective at reducing drug offenses, or if the focus of drug court efforts should be on preventative measures.

In terms of cost savings, the report indicated that approximate cost per participant was $5,928 over a timeframe of 30 months, but came with savings totaling more than $2,300 in additional costs from within the criminal system, and an additional $1,301 in potential costs toward victimization services.

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