Drug Courts were first created in 1989 to combat the growing Crack Cocaine crisis in Florida. The idea behind these specialized courts is to create a program for non-violent drug offenders to get the rehabilitative treatment they need in lieu of jail time.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Courts have become an essential part of our judicial system and have realized their goal of helping non-violent offenders seek treatment while reducing cost and recidivism. According to their study, Drug Court participants had fewer re-arrests, were less likely to test positive for drugs, and saved thousands of dollars per offender.
While many evaluate Drug Courts as a success, increasing skepticism has lead to disapproval of the system. Several critics, such as the Justice Policy Institute and the Drug Policy Alliance find faults in the procedure, including the fact that many individuals selected for Drug Court are predetermined to do well in treatment. Often times this means low-level, non-violent Marijuana users successfully complete the program. Some suggest that many of the Marijuana offenders may not have an addiction at all, and thus are not likely to re-offend or fail a drug test.
The question posed by this issue becomes whether Drug Courts only help those with serious addictions. Critics suggest that the process often does not help the serious substance abusers either. With sanctions placed on the offender for relapses, the serious drug abuser takes a gamble by entering Drug Court, knowing that their participation requires a clean drug test. While Drug Courts say they see addiction as a disease, the offenders who relapse are given stiff penalties. Sometimes the punishment is harsher than their original sentence. With 33 to 75% of offenders being kicked out of the program, many end up in jail after spending time attempting the to abide by the Drug Court protocol.
So what do the critics suggest as an alternative? Fund treatment within the community and leave rehabilitation out of the hands of the justice systems. As the opponents and allies remain at odds, the future of Drug Courts remains to be seen.