Drug Court vs. Incarceration

Drug addiction has increased drastically across America in the last fifty years. Non-violent drug offenders fill our jails and prisons. Taxpayer dollars are put into a prison system that is proving to be counter-productive. Recidivism rates are high. Drug Court is an alternative to incarceration that offers rehabilitation to criminal offenders. In drug court, the traditional functions of the U. S. justice system are profoundly altered. The judge is the leader of a treatment team.

The judge makes all final decisions and holds a range of discretion unprecedented in the courtroom, including the type of treatment mandated and how to address relapse. In 1989, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County in Florida was the first in the nation to implement Drug Court, a diversion and treatment program for drug offenders which is overseen by the Court. “The Miami-Dade Drug Court sparked a national revolution that has forever changed our justice system. Ten years after the first Drug Court was founded, 492 Drug Courts existed.

By December 31, 2010 2,633 Drug Courts were operating in every U. S. state and territory” (National Association of Drug Court Professionals, para 3). Drug Court has allowed participants an opportunity to become productive members of their communities. Although not all people agree that drug court is an effective countermeasure for incarceration, drug court offers more treatment options for a criminal offender, reducing the recidivism rates and saving taxpayers money. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, it costs $54. 28 per day to incarcerate an individual in Indiana’s penal system.

This figure excludes any medical care or other costs the prisoner may incur while incarcerated. Also excluded is the cost with the arrest, prosecution, and supervision of the offender (Indiana Department of Corrections, para 1). This means that for each person who is imprisoned for a drug-related crime, it cost taxpayers a minimum of $19,323. 68 a year just to provide secure housing and food. Since the drug war began in the United States in 1976, the number of people who are incarcerated has grown from less than 100 per 100,000 in 1975, to 502 per 100,000 in 2010.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world (Smith, para2). Drug court has proved to be an effective alternative to incarceration. A drug court typically consists of a multi-jurisdictional team of professionals who come together to work with drug offenders in their community. The drug court team will usually include the offender, the defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney, the judge, the probation department, and a team of drug treatment and mental health professionals. Noble County’s drug court program lasts between eighteen and forty-eight months, the duration is determined by the presiding judge.

Offenders spend their time under direct and intense supervision by the probation department. Any person who is arrested for drug possession, sale of drugs, or possession of precursors are eligible to apply for this program. An offender who is arrested for a violent crime, or has a history of violence or sex crimes is not eligible to apply for the program. Applicants for the entry into the Drug Court program, have their cases examined closely by all members of the judicial team, with the presiding judge deciding whether applicant will be allowed to participate in the program.

Judge Kramer, presiding judge of Noble County Drug Court Program, explains “we are trying to figure out if offender is truly an addict or just a casual user selling drugs for money” (Kramer). Once offenders are admitted into Drug Court, they must follow every recommendation of the treatment team. Some offenders are required to complete an inpatient treatment program to get through detoxification, while others are required to complete an intensive outpatient drug treatment program. All participants are under close supervision of a probation officer. They have frequent meetings with the Drug Court judge and many other team members.

During the first stage of Noble County’s Drug Court Program, participants are required to appear before the judge at least twice a week along with their probation officer, whom they meet with three to four times a week. They are also required to attend daily drug treatment programs, as well as up to five Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings per week. The programs first stage also requires participants to attend frequent support group meetings, which are generally held at the local community mental health and substance abuse facilities.

Incentives are used to encourage participants to continue to make progress in the program. Offenders who are able to show they are able to complete their daily requirements while passing random drug tests are promoted to a higher level in the program, which allow them less supervision and more freedom. According to Noble County Drug Court officer, Michelle Bowers, participants are subject to random and frequent drug testing in order to better monitor drug use and relapse (Bowers). Immediate sanctions are imposed when offenders violate any terms of their participation agreements.

Those who relapse during the program are not automatically disqualified from it; they usually are given additional restrictions, and increased structure is imposed by the judge. Judge Kramer reports that each relapse is treated on a “case by case” basis (Kramer). He believes that the community service and increased levels of treatment and supervision are the most effective ways to get the offenders free of drugs, and back in treatment following a relapse. Noble County started a drug court program in December 2006. This program has allowed an effective sentencing alternative to the courts of Noble County.

Honorable Judge Michael Kramer has presided over the program since its inception. Judge Kramer states that the mission of his drug court program is to “try to help people get clean while avoiding criminal behavior”. He also reports that more than 72 percent of those who are accepted into Noble County Drug Court Program are able to successfully complete all requirements dictated by the court in order to graduate from the program. Defendants who complete the drug court program and remain arrest-free for six months following their graduation, have all charges dropped and their arrest records are expunged.

Judge Kramer explained the importance of recent ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court which clarifies the rules of judicial conduct related to drug court programs. This ruling outlines the regulations which help keep each member of the judicial team separate, so that no one has the appearance of being influenced or biased (Kramer). The United States Supreme Court has also made recent changes regarding judicial conduct so that each of the judicial members involved in the drug court system are able to work together, in the best interest of the offender (National Institute of Justice, para8).

The taxpayer’s return on money invested in the drug court program is substantial. Drug courts save American taxpayers millions of dollars while providing treatment for the addict rather than incarceration. The Center for Court Innovation conducted a study of New York drug courts. The state court system estimates that in that year, 2007, $254 million in incarceration costs were saved by diverting more than 18,000 non-violent drug offenders into treatment (Huddleston, Marlowe, 7).

One economic analysis in Washington State concluded that drug courts cost, on average, $4,333 per participant, but save taxpayers $4,705 per participant in incarceration costs. The same economic analysis concluded that for each person in the drug court, there was a savings of $4,395 for the potential crime victims (Huddleston and Marlowe, 12). Judge Kramer reports that according to his financial records, each dollar spent on the Drug Court Program in Noble County saves the taxpayers between $8 and $30, which otherwise would have been spent incarcerating and supervising drug law violators.

In Noble County’s Drug Court Program, each participant must be employed and is required to pay an initial fee of $500 along with a weekly fee, which varies according to the participant’s stage in the program. Participants are also required to pay for all costs associated with their drug treatment, supervision, and drug testing (Noble County Courts, para3). Judge Kramer stated that, “the law enforcement costs, prosecution costs, and incarceration costs, which would be paid by taxpayers if offender was incarcerated, are saved due to the Drug Court Program” (Kramer).

Recidivism rates for those who have graduated from a drug court program have consistently proven to be lower than those who did not take part in a drug court program. The average recidivism rate for those who complete a drug court program is between 6 and 26 percent (Huddleston and Marlow, 9). The National Institute of Justice Statistics reports that in 2011, those who were convicted of drug crimes and did not participate in a drug court program had a two year follow up recidivism rate of 65 percent (National Institute of Justice, para10).

According to these studies, those who complete a drug court program have a chance of not reoffending that is at least 37 percent better, and could be up to 61 percent better, chance than those who are dealt with in the traditional criminal justice system for their crimes. Similar studies have also shown that drug court graduates have an overwhelming amount of success at the five and ten year mark of their drug court graduation date (National Institute of Justice, para12). Consequently, there are people and organizations (such as the Drug Policy Alliance) that believe that drug courts are unsuccessful and have not reduced recidivism rates or saved the taxpayer any money.

They tend to believe that drug courts have made criminal courts more punitive and over-reaching than before, when punishing addicts. This belief exists despite overwhelming research which proves these beliefs to be false. In the conclusion of a year-long study conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group does admit that “drug court has saved lives”; however, it challenges assertions that drug courts save money or lower recidivism rates (Newman, 14).

Most of the negative findings regarding drug courts are related to the belief that these programs leave people are “worse off” than they were before their arrest. This is because critics believe that those who fail to complete the drug court program will have “negative feelings” for the treatment providers and the judicial system. The author of the study explains that this organization believes criminalizing drugs harms the country more than the drug addiction does itself. This group, and many like it, seek the decriminalization of all drugs and do not have any real interest in criminal sentencing for anyone violating drug laws.

The study does concede that if America’s drug policy does not change, then the drug court model is the best option for dealing with those who commit drug-related crimes. Our country continues to have a large drug problem, but many of those who are arrested for drug related crimes now have hope, thanks to the treatment they can receive in the drug court program. The current philosophy of incarcerating those who have been arrested for drug-related crimes is ineffective and counterproductive in treating addiction.

The outdated approach of incarcerating drug offenders leads to a high recidivism rate, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Long term incarceration is not the solution when dealing with a drug addicted offender; the drug court program is the best answer to treating those who are arrested for crimes due to drug addiction. The drug court program saves taxpayer’s money while helping get the drug addicts the treatment they need to become free of drugs. Works Cited Bowers, Michelle, Noble County Drug Court Officer. Personal interview. 29 August 2012. “Do Drug Courts Work?

” National Institute of Justice, 12 May 2008. Web. 3 Sept. 2012. < http://nij. gov/nij/topics/courts/drug-courts/work. htm> Kramer, Judge Michael. Personal interview. 29 August 2012. Huddleston, C West and Marlowe, Douglas B. “Painting the Current Picture: A National Report Card on Drug Courts and other Problem-Solving Court Programs in the United States. ” (July 2011): 2-57. PDF file. Newman, Tony. “Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Abuse. ” (2011): 2-28. PDF file. “Noble County Drug Courts. ” Noble County Probation Department, 2007. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.

<http://www. noblecountycourts. org/ncc/DrugCourt. aspx> Smith, Phillip. “Drug Arrests Top 1. 6 Million Last Year Despite Small Drop. ” Stop the Drug War. N. p. ,19 Sept. 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://stopthedrugwar. org/chronicle/2010/sep/19/drug_arrests_top_16_million_last> “Top 10 Department Facts. ” Indiana Department of Correction. State of Indiana, 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://www. in. gov/idoc/2378. htm> “What are Drug Courts? ” NADCP. National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. < http://www. nadcp. org/learn/what-are-drug-courts/drug-court-history>.