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Drug Courts Essay


In order to understand the importance of drug court programs, it is important to learn what prompted the program. Before the first drug court was established in 1989, the United States has endured three drug epidemics that had profound consequences on the criminal justice system. Drug court programs intends to reduce substance abuse among offenders with addiction by providing treatment to eligible participants. Drug courts are effective in reducing recidivism among offenders after completing the drug court program.

Drug courts are criminal justice programs that are arranged to change substance-abuse offenders from original court proceedings to a more refurbished environment, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (Gallagher, 2012). Since the formation of the first drug court in 1989, drug courts have become a very important part of the adult and juvenile correction system. The therapeutic court model was also developed during this time, and is now considered a valid component in American Criminal Justice. Drug courts are considered therapeutic because it focuses on substance abuse treatment rather than incarceration (Neal, 2010). However, in order to apprehend the essences and reason for drug courts, it is important to know the circumstantial evidence and policy behavior that led to the evolution and profound explanation supporting it.

During the late 1800 and 1900s the United States had suffered through three drug epidemics, with serious consequences to the criminal justice system (Roper, 2007). When pharmaceutical companies began promoting products with heroin, cocaine, and codeine as drinks, pain relievers, and cough suppressants, in 1825 it started the first epidemic. Until it became noticeable that opiate addiction was becoming universal, physicians then turned to cocaine; which they believed was a non-addictive cure. Soon after, it was estimated that 250,000 Americans, 1 in 300, were addicted to opiates in 1900, and 200,000 was addicted to cocaine.

By the end of the first epidemic congress had passed the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, and other laws that would control the import of opium and products. Not long after, the government also passed ordinance against opium dens and cocaine joints (Roper, 2007), causing President Taft to double his effort a war on drugs. Rehabilitation clinics that were funded publicly was established, however there was very little facts known about addiction or how to treat it. Heroin had become illegal in the United States in 1925, therefore leaving half of the prisoners in the federal penitentiary violators of the narcotic laws.

Between the years 1950 and 1970 the second drug epidemic stretched across the United States. As heroin use trickled from the inner city, into middle class homes, superstars began making music about the pleasure of using marijuana, LSD, and cocaine, establishing a counterculture, towards mainstream society (Roper, 2007). It was then when the federal and state governments reacted with the laws that would prohibit drug distribution possession, and use of any drugs (Roper, 2007). The expansion of law enforcement agencies and drug task forces were formed. 2-to-5 year sentences for first-time offenders, and 5-to-10 years for second-time offenders.

President Eisenhower declared a second war on drugs in 1954, and increased the mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. During this time there was an increase demand for drugs that fueled the supply, causing European partners to join teams with oriental suppliers of opiates, while South American farmers swamped the United States with cocaine. The Bureau of Drug Abuse Control and The Bureau of Narcotics and Drugs were created and President Nixon declared drug abuse to be the number one domestic concern (Roper, 2007), and created the U.S. Drug Enforcement in 1973.

The last drug epidemic started around 1980 with the reappearance of cocaine as a poplar relaxation drug and a new way to use it by smoking, known as free basing. The growing knowledge about addiction revealed that cocaine was very addictive, especially if it was inhaled. Drug trafficking became a $7 billion business in Florida in 1980. The inflow of alien drug users caused criminal drug activity to expand in Florida (Roper, 2007).

Law enforcement and the Judicial System had all they could take in arresting and putting drug offenders away in Dade County (Roper, 2007). Florida and the court penal systems was unable to handle the overflow of convicted drug offenders. Judges meant to handle criminal offenses became annoyed with sending the same drug offenders to jail over and over. Judges began refusing to cooperate further in drug cases, even deciding to resign from office instead of giving offenders mandatory minimum sentences.

Prosecutors and judges came up with the idea of joining the coercive power of criminal justice system with rehabilitative treatment; which was found to be effective in reducing drug use. The first drug court began in 1989 in Miami, Florida, and as a result, drug courts have grown rapidly. Drug courts were created with the purpose of going above the retributive punishment and focusing on the addiction problem itself (Fulkerson, 2009). Treatment, counseling, and acupuncture, along with educational and vocational programs were offered to offenders. By 1999, drug courts were operating throughout the nation (Roper, 2007).

There is limited eligibility for drug courts. There are only certain groups of drug-using offenders that can partake in drug courts. The reason for these limitations is to ensure that those nonviolent offenders known to be responsive to substance abuse treatment participate (Armstrong, 2003). Every drug court require that offenders have not been charged with violent crime whatsoever. Some drug courts have firm requirements that excludes anyone with a certain amount of prior convictions. Upon entering the drug court program participants is required to attend seven weeks of orientation education. Part of the orientation session is conducted individually, while the rest are conducted in groups (Logan, Williams, Leukefeld & Minton, 2000).

Drug court programs require that participants meet the conditions of the drug court, that include regular drug testing, participation in drug treatment, and regular court appearances (Franco, 2011). The drug court program is voluntary. Those who choose to participate in the program are often required to sign an agreement or contract that requires the agreed-upon terms of participation. Defendants who abide by the courts requirements receive encouragement, while those defendants who do otherwise can be sent to a range of graduated sanctions. Sanctions can include additional drug testing requirements, some incarceration, and more time of participation in the drug court program. Repeatedly violating the courts requirements can result in the removal from the program and sentenced for the offense on post-conviction drug court programs, or put back on the original criminal court docket for trail for the original offense if the drug court program is a deferred prosecution program.

Participants are also required to adhere to certain rules while participating in the drug court program. Drug courts participants are required to obtain and maintain a full-time job throughout the program, unless they are a full-time student, or told by a doctor that they are physically or mentally unfit for full-time employment. If participants are unable to find jobs on their own, services are provided by the drug court staff to assist them (Logan, Williams, Leukefeld & Minton, 2000). Those participants with less than a high school degree or GED and those without jobs or unable to work are required to work on enhancing their educational skills. Participants are also required to dwell in or find housing approved by the court. This type of living space can create soberness efforts, because it is often hard for participants to remain in their old using context. They are encourage to reduce the contact with old friends, places, and habits (Logan, Williams, Leukefeld & Minton, 2000).

Judges are very involved in monitoring participant progress. Participants are required to appear frequently at status hearings before the judge (Franco, 2011). Participants are required to enter substance- abuse treatment where they will submit their urine test, so the court can determine that they are staying away from drug use. Treatment provided in drug court programs can be a flexible length, and participation requirements can run between 8 to 16 months long. Substance abuse treatment consist of a number of services for example, detoxification, outpatient substance-abuse treatment, going to support group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, and inpatient drug treatment. Drug court programs make sure participants are regularly going to treatment and receiving reports from treatment providers about participants’ progress. Participants who miss court hearings, fail to go to treatments, have an enormous numbers of positive urine test, or are arrested while participating in the drug court program, sanctions can be imposed by the judge.

Drug courts are believed to affect an offender’s drug use and criminal behavior through the actions and impact of the court and participation of the offender in authorized drug and alcohol abuse treatment (Wilson, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2006). Those offenders involved in drug use are managed in a traditional way by the criminal justice system and are referred to drug treatment. Treatment compliance seems to be a major problem with this population; which hinders successful outcomes of the drug court program. Drug court structure was designed to use the power of the judge to address the problem.

The issue within the drug court treatment is whether forcing someone with a substance-abuse problem into treatment will really help them. Some argue that the only way the treatment will be effective is if the abusers enter the treatment at their own free will (Wilson, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2006). The empirical evidence has failed to support this argument, for example Farabee review of evidence on effectiveness showed that allowing the criminal justice system to force drug abusers into treatment does not undermine the drug court program effectiveness (Wilson, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2006). The program seeks to protect what is at best interest of the offender.

Drug courts programs also have effects on cost. There have been a few in depth studies done on the long-term costs and the help of drug courts that have been conducted. Some of the reason is because it has been hard to obtain the costs and costs offsets in a normal drug court environment based on local budgets. Even though some cost studies have shown positive cost benefits, there is little information on whether or not it benefits the local budgets such as, the court system, district attorney, or the sheriff (Carey & Finigan, 2004). Every time a participant has contact with the program a transaction occurs. When a participant appears in court, has a drug test done, have public defender time, use court facilities money is being used. Drug courts affect cost because any criminal justice related incurred by the drug court program can directly affect a citizen, either by tax-related reasons, or the outcome of being a victim of a crime caused by a substance abuser (Carey & Finigan, 2004).

Although some state drug courts differ from one jurisdiction to another when it relates to the structure, scope, and target populations; drug courts all have the same primary goals. Drug courts primary goals are to reduce recidivism, incarceration, and substance-abuse among participants, also to rehabilitate participants so it can improve their chances of successfully re-entering society by offering social services like employment, job training, education, and housing assistance (Franco, 2011). Drug courts are known to be one of the most reliable and effective strategies for reducing recidivism and criminal activity among participants in the drug court program, also providing a replacement for incarceration.

There were times when critics argued that drug courts might not reduce recidivism or relapse among offenders who abuse drugs any more than traditional interventions such as, incarceration, parole, or probation. There have been numerous program evaluations conducted over the years, where the findings were varied by the drug courts themselves. It is hard to determine if drug courts do reduce recidivism, criminal victimization and cost related to criminal adjudication and incarceration. Drug courts do not normally monitor the sobriety of the participants after completing the program, therefore it is hard to determine the long-term effects of drug courts on recidivism, or any other factors that highlight criminal offending (Franco, 2011).

Drug courts were evaluated based on three types of analyses. The process of operation was the first analyses, which examined and described the details of the drug court program and whether or not they were being implemented. For example, the number of people participating, referrals to treatment, and those graduating from the drug court program (Franco, 2011). The second analyses was cost-savings estimates, this compared the cost of drug courts services with the skipped costs of adjudication, incarceration, and criminal victimizations (Franco, 2011). Impact evaluation, the third analyses compared the effectiveness and effect of drug court programs on lives of participants with the outcome of offenders who went through the traditional courtroom process, by looking at factors such as recidivism, substance-abuse, and employment (Franco, 2011).

To define the effectiveness of drug courts on recidivism, outcomes of two different treatment based drug programs, which included a 30-month follow up session. The study examined the outcomes of drug court graduates and those participants who did not graduate (Wilson, Eggers, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2012). This would determine if the involvement in drug court treatment would affect the number of arrest, duration to arrest, or the types of crimes committed during the first follow-up period.

It has been found that those who participate in drug court programs have lower recidivism rates than those who do not participate (Wilson, Eggers, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2012). However, it does vary depending on the type of drug court; for example, adult drug courts, juvenile drug courts, or drug courts for DWIs. Adult drug courts are found to be more effective in reducing recidivism, whereas juvenile drug courts have small effects in reducing recidivism because juveniles offer services to high-risk offenders and adult drug courts excludes those types of offenders (Wilson, Eggers, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2012). It is also found that drug courts with fewer harsh populations are more effective in reducing recidivism. Programs that only allowed non-violent offenders to participate in the program had larger chances of reducing recidivism (Wilson, Eggers, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2012).

According to the analyses of clients arrest rates who participated in the drug court program, found that participating in the program greatly reduced criminal behavior among offenders. Criminal behavior was presented to be much lower for clients who participated, when observation groups were exercised (Spohn, Piper, & Martin, 2001). Evaluations that compared post-program recidivism for those who completed drug courts and observation groups founded much lower recidivism rates. It was also found that the people who participated in drug courts were more likely to obtain employment while participating after graduation (Spohn, Piper, & Martin, 2001). For example, in a Delaware adult drug court, 79% of drug court graduates had jobs full or part-time, in school, or both compared to 62% of those who did not graduate.

Other findings from a bivariate analysis, found that drug court participants were less likely than felony arrestees, however more likely than those forced to participate to be arrested or convicted in a 12-month follow up period (Spohn, Piper, & Martin, 2001). Those participating in drug courts are known to have considerably fewer amounts of arrest than traditional adjudicated offenders. Recidivism after drug court programs can also be determined by the offenders’ age, gender, and prior criminal record. Older offenders who participated in drug court programs are less likely than young participants to be rearrested for either misdemeanor of felony. However, females are less likely than males to be rearrested (Spohn, Piper, & Martin, 2001).

Drug courts also show effectiveness in cost savings. Drug courts happen to bring about savings in jail cost, particularly for pretrial detention (Steven, 1998). It was found that drug courts saves money in probation supervision, police overtime, and many other criminal justice system costs. There has been a substantial long-term cost savings because of the drug court programs (Steven, 1998).

Drug court programs could be more effective if the program targeted more high-risk offenders to have better outcomes for reducing recidivism. Society expects high-risk offenders to commit crime, therefore targeting those high-risk offenders with substance abuse problems might result in better results than low-risk offenders. Drug courts should also being utilizing practices like relapse prevention treatment that would help offender after drug treatment in situations where they might consider using again.

Drug court programs could be more effective if they did not have such a strict eligibility requirements. Although requirements differ in some drug courts, most require that participants have no serious prior convictions, perhaps reducing some of the requirements and welcoming all types of offenders could increase the effectiveness of recidivism rates after completing the drug court program.

Another study suggest that congress should consider coming up with a support system of accreditation for drug courts (Franco, 2010). “Accreditation is often used to ensure the quality of services provided by a wide range of institutions” (Franco, 2010). Having accreditation makes sure that rules, procedures, content, and services are being met by the participants. This would help make drug courts more effective because it will ensure that participants are getting the proper drug treatment they need to complete the program. Accreditation can also encourage the drug court program to improve their services if needed.

In conclusion, drug court programs have evolved since its first drug court in 1989. As of today drug courts are implemented in more than 275 jurisdictions in the United States. Drug courts are put into place to provide treatment to offenders who have some kind of substance abuse problem (Franco, 2010). Drug courts have become very important to the adult and juvenile correction system. Drug courts have shown to be very effective in reducing recidivism rates among offenders who participate in the program, they have also shown to reduce cost in other criminal justice agencies.


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Spohn, C., Piper, R., & Martin, T. (2001). Drug courts and recidivism: The results of an evaluation using two comparison groups and multiple indicators of recidivism. 149-176. Steven, B. (1998). Research on drug courts: a critical review. 1-26. Wilson, D., Mitchell, O., & MacKenzie, D. (2006). A systematic review of. Journal Of Experimental Criminology, 459-487.

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