Drug courts are judicially supervised court dockets that provide a sentencing alternative of treatment combined with supervision for people living with serious substance use and mental health disorders. Drug courts are problem-solving courts that take a public health approach using a specialized model in which the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities work together to help addicted offenders into long-term recovery.
In Australia, drug courts operate in various jurisdictions, although their formation, process and procedures differ. The main aim of the Australian courts is to divert illicit drug users from incarceration into treatment programs for their addiction. Drug courts have been established in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia. People appearing in Australian drug courts often fall outside the parameters for other pre-court services
Drug treatment courts (DTCs) are a recent phenomenon in the Canadian criminal justice system. The first Canadian DTC commenced in Toronto in 1998. The Federal Government currently supports Edmonton (December 2005), Winnipeg (January 2006), Ottawa (March 2006), Regina (October 2006), Toronto (1998), and Vancouver (2001). Hamilton, Calgary and Durham have also recently initiated DTCs.
In the UK, drug courts are currently being tested in various places. In December 2005, the United Kingdom began a pilot scheme of dedicated drug courts. Family Drug and Alcohol Court are in operation in various locations throughout the country, including London, Gloucestershire and Milton Keynes where the service is run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. In February 2015 it was announced that more would open in East Sussex, Kent and Medway, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter, and West Yorkshire.
The first drug court in the US took shape in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1989 as a response to the growing crack cocaine problem plaguing the city. Chief Judge Gerald Wetherington, Judge Herbert Klein, then State Attorney Janet Reno, and Public Defender Bennett Brummer designed the court for nonviolent offenders to receive treatment. In the United States, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, as of December 31, 2014, there are 3,057 drug courts representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and various tribal regions.
Effectiveness in the United States
Drug court are often touted as the single most successful intervention in US history for leading people struggling with serious addiction out of the justice system and into lives of health and long-term recovery. Numerous studies show that punishment simply does not solve the problem of addiction; in fact, 70% of those released from prison return to drug use. The punitive approach has produced disastrous societal and economic consequences for our communities, resulting in 1.5 million seriously addicted people behind bars and more than $80 billion spent annually on corrections. Drug courts seek to connect participants with treatment and to help them stay in treatment long enough to be successful. Drug courts now refer more people to treatment than any other intervention in America, however, it should be noted that often Drug courts are the only avenue for entry into treatment in the United States, which doesn't have adequate health services. While the average national completion rate for drug court participants in one study was nearly 60% (two-thirds higher than probation and more than twice the rate of probationers with severe substance use disorders) different courts will show different outcomes. There is also some evidence of reduced recidivism through Drug courts.
Drug Courts are a relatively new form of 'punishment' in the justice system with roots that date back to earlier centuries. Drug Courts are meant to keep offenders in the real world, instead of in jail or prison. By keeping minor offenders on the street, they can continue being effective members of society, hold down jobs, pay taxes, and often receive better drug treatment than they would in prison or jail. Drug Court is assigned by a judge who sees an offender who has the opportunity to become a successful functioning citizen in society. Drug Court is sentenced by an offender agreeing to a guilty plea to the offense they committed. As long as the offender successfully completes drug court, the offense is often removed from their record. Drug Court is completed along with probation, with mandatory drug and alcohol urine analysis, treatment programs, counseling, mandatory work, and often educational training. Drug Courts are incredibly successful so far with reducing recidivism amongst offenders by solving the issue causing the criminal activity: the drug and alcohol addiction.
As a result of what are deemed good outcomes, a variety of court programs are now focused on treatment rather than incarceration for repeat DWI offenders, parents whose children have been removed from the home due to substance use, juveniles facing criminal charges, tribal communities torn apart by addiction, and veterans struggling with the lingering effects of trauma. These programs seek to lead people into recovery and to break the cycle of recidivism.
Women and Drug Courts in United States
There are many variations to Drug Courts and more recently some have opened up to deal specifically with women drug users.
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- Addiction and Mental Health Research Laboratory. (2009). Drug treatment Courts (DTCs). Edmonton,AB: University of Alberta. Fact sheet.
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- "National Center for DWI Courts". DWIcourts.org.
- "Justice For Vets". justiceforvets.org.
- Gerra, Gilberto; Clark, Nicolas (2010). From coercion to cohesion: Treating drug dependence through health care, not punishment (PDF). New York: United Nations: Office on Drugs and Crime. p. 13. This discussion paper is based on the deliberations of a group of international experts present at a scientific workshop held at Vienna in October 2009, called Voluntary-based or compulsory drug dependence treatment? From mandated treatment to therapeutic alliance.
- National Association of Drug Court Professionals (2013-2015). Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards, Volumes I and II.