The Drug Policy Alliance has recently released a report that makes a well documented and researched case against the current model for drug courts and argues that they often do more harm than good. The executive summary of the report is reproduced below and it is highly recommended for anyone dealing with drug and substance abuse issues of any kind.
That is of particular interest since the veteran court in Colorado Springs, and many elsewhere, have adopted a punitive drug court model that requires a plea bargain (conviction) before admittance. Further, an analysis of 1,000 veteran arrests in El Paso County (Colorado Springs), Colorado, found (p. 6) that only 14% of the cases involved drug and substance abuse. In combination with the Drug Policy Alliance report, our findings make it abundantly clear that a punitive drug-court model is the wrong answer for dealing with veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), or the other wounds of war.
This report seeks to address the lack of critical analysis that stymies the policy discussion on drug courts, to foster a more informed public debate on the 20-year-old criminal justice phenomenon, and to encourage policy makers to promote drug policies based not on popularity but on science, compassion, health and human rights.
To answer these questions, the Drug Policy Alliance analyzed the research on drug courts, other criminal justice programs and non-criminal justice responses to drug use. We also received input from academics and experts across the U.S. and abroad. This comprehensive review of the evidence reveals the following:
Oft-repeated claims to the contrary are revealed to be anecdotal or otherwise unreliable. Evaluations are commonly conducted by the creators of the programs being evaluated, and the result is research that is unscientific, poorly designed, and cannot be accurately described as evidence.
Drug courts often "cherry pick" people expected to do well. Many people end up in a drug court because of a petty drug law violation, including marijuana. As a result, drug courts do not typically divert people from lengthy prison terms. The widespread use of incarceration for failing a drug test, missing an appointment, or being a "knucklehead" means that some drug court participants end up incarcerated for more time than if they had been conventionally sentenced in the first place. And, given that many drug courts focus on low-level offenses, even positive results for individual participants translate into little public safety benefit to the community. Treatment in the community, whether voluntary or probation-supervised, often produces better results.
Drug court success stories are real and deserve to be celebrated. However, drug courts also leave many people worse off than if they had received drug treatment outside the criminal justice system, had been left alone, or even been conventionally sentenced. The successes represent only some of those who pass through drug courts and only a tiny fraction of people arrested.
Not only will some drug court participants spend more days in jail while in drug court than if they had been conventionally sentenced, but participants deemed "failures" may actually face longer sentences than those who did not enter drug court in the first place (often because they lost the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge). With drug courts reporting completion rates ranging from 30 to 70 percent, the number of participants affected is significant. Even those not in drug court may be negatively affected by them, since drug courts have been associated with increased arrests and incarceration in some cases.
Drug courts have adopted the disease model of addiction but continue to penalize relapse with incarceration and ultimately to eject from the program those who are not able to abstain from drug use for a period of time deemed sufficient by the judge. Unlike health-centered programs, drug courts treat as secondary all other measures of improved health and stability, including reduced drug use and maintenance of relationships and employment.
Some people with serious drug problems respond to treatment in the drug court context; not the majority. The participants who stand the best chance of succeeding in drug courts are those without a drug problem, while those struggling with compulsive drug use are more likely to end up incarcerated. Participants with drug problems are also disadvantaged by inadequate treatment options. Drug courts typically allow insufficiently trained program staff to make treatment decisions and offer limited availability to quality and culturally appropriate treatment.
Reserving drug courts for cases involving offenses against persons or property that are linked to a drug use disorder, while improving drug court practices and providing other options for people convicted of drug law violations;