How effective have drug courts been in alleviating the problems of drug abuse and prison-overcrowding?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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On balance, one could conclude that drug courts are successful in providing a viable alternative to treating drug addicts and in reducing the problem of overcrowding of America’s prisons, although neither problem is disappearing in the near future.  Certainly, if one agrees with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, drug courts have been a remarkable success.  According to the NADCP, recidivism rates among drug offenders has been reduced by 75 percent, with drug-related crime reduced by “as much as 45 percent more than [under] other sentencing options.”  In addition, the NADCP concludes that Drug Courts have produced cost saving associated with the housing of prison inmates “from $3,000 to $13,000 per client.”  [www.nadcp.org/learn/facts-and-figures]  The U.S. Government’s National Criminal Justice Reference Service website states that Drug Court participants “reported less criminal activity (40% vs. 53%) and had fewer rearrests (52% vs. 62%) than comparable offenders,” and that participants “reported less drug use (56% vs. 76%) and were less likely to test positive (29% vs. 46%) than comparable offenders.” [www.ncjrs.gov/spotlight/drug_courts/facts.html] In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of the effectiveness of Drug Courts in 2004 that concluded that the use of such courts “statistically significant recidivism reductions” among participants.  [U.S. Government Accountability Office, Adult Drug Courts: Evidence Indicates Recidivism Reductions and Mixed Results for Other Outcomes, GAO-05-219, February 2005]

Virtually all available information indicates that the use of Drug Courts, and there currently some 2,400 such courts serving both adult and juvenile offenders in the U.S., has proved beneficial to both the offender population and to the broader society as a whole in terms of reduced instances of crime and greatly reduced costs associated with housing prisoners for nonviolent offenses.  While the data does weight heavily in support of the use of Drug Courts, however, there are dissenting opinions regarding their effectiveness.  Chief among criticisms of the data supporting the use of Drug Courts is the difficulty of quantifying the number of drug addicts for whom Drug Courts provide a viable alternative to the conventional or traditional criminal justice system.  One of the leading critics of the use of Drug Courts is Colorado Judge Morris Hoffman, who has written widely against the use of judges as determinants of how drug addiction should be treated, arguing that judges represent the criminal justice system and not the drug treatment system.  Hoffman further argues that “although many studies and many kinds of studies have examined drug courts, none has demonstrated with any degree of reliability that drug courts work.” [See District Judge Morris B. Hoffman, “The Drug Court Scandal,” North Carolina Law Review, June 2000, Vol. 78, No. 5] 

While dissenting opinions regarding the effectiveness of Drug Courts are correct in pointing to the small percentage of drug abusers who are processed through such courts, and while Judge Hoffman has argued forcefully against the use of Drug Courts, critically analyzing the benefits versus risks of using Drug Courts argues for their continued use.  They do reduce recidivism rates among participants and, by extension, crimes associated with drug abuse, and they do save a great deal of money.

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