Years ago, the consensus was that addiction was evidence of being a bad person, dishonest and weak of character and will. As a result, being chemically dependent was largely criminalized, and people who used drugs resorted to crimes to sustain their addictions. Many of them were forced into abstinence by lengthy prison sentences.
Today, some areas of the country hold drug court if someone using drugs is arrested and is required to attend court-ordered treatment.
However, before defining and discussing the concept of drug court, it’s important to understand the connection between addiction and criminal behavior, and why the penal system can be more harmful than helpful to individuals with addictions.
The Relationship Between Addiction and Criminal Behavior
As mentioned above, individuals who develop an alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder can experience profound changes, amounting to the deterioration or degradation of physical, mental and emotional well-being, finances, and social life.
While all the effects are harmful, the changes to thinking and emotions have the potential to cause harm with greater implications for life. When dependent on alcohol or drugs, substance abuse becomes central to life.
The individual must take drugs or drink alcohol every day and do so regularly to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. In fact, the fear of withdrawal is considered one of the strongest motivators in the persistence of dependency. It prevents individuals from seeking the treatment they need while also making them likely to resort to extreme measures to sustain their addictions.
Most individuals who do not have an addiction wouldn’t consider criminal behavior to be a viable solution to most problems. This is because sober people don’t feel the dire consequences of crime are worth the risk.
However, people who have a substance use disorder quickly experience desperation when they are on the cusp of withdrawal, making them significantly more likely to resort to criminal behavior. Over time, they will likely require less and less desperation for crime to be a viable solution. This is where drug courts are the most beneficial.
The Criminal Justice System and People With SUD
Hypothetically, jail might seem like a viable means of getting someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) sober when they refused to do so voluntarily. However, research has found that these people generally cannot be forced into sobriety and abstinence.
Although they become sober while in jail, they are forced into sobriety by a prison sentence and become part of the incredibly high number of users who relapse upon release.
Tolerance decreases while abstinent in prison. However, when a person with SUD is released, drug relapse is very possible, and there is a very high risk of overdose because people with a SUD take addictive substances in amounts that are far higher than their bodies can process.
Moreover, there have been reports of many jails and prisons having either no addiction treatment servicesor inadequate support for addictions, making such an abrupt cessation of substance abuse dangerous as withdrawal can be potentially fatal in some instances.
Treating Instead of Punishing Addiction
With addiction rates reaching epidemic levels, a large number of drug-related crimes and crimes have been committed by offenders with an addiction. In fact, studies have estimated that almost1 in 5 crimes are committed by individuals who are trying to obtain the money needed to buy drugs.
As officials and law enforcement have tried to find more effective ways to combat the increasingly high rates of crimes by people with SUD, there has been a call to reconsider how offenders with addictions are handled by the justice system. This is where drug court comes into focus.
Drug court is a specialized court docket program that targets individuals who have alcohol or drug dependency. In particular, drug court was conceptualized to be available to offenders and defendants, juvenile offenders, and parents who have pending child welfare cases and who also have a SUD.
Rather than putting these individuals through the traditional justice system,drug courts give individuals the option of entering a rehabilitation program rather than going to prison. They are closely supervised for the duration of their treatment to ensure compliance in the hope that this will yield more positive results than would serving time in jail.
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals states that drug courts sentence offenders with addictions to a minimum of one year of receiving intensive treatments that will allow them to get sober while requiring them to be accountable for meeting their obligations to their families, court, themselves, and society.
Throughout the given period, individuals must pass regular, random drug screens to show they’ve been complying with the court’s sobriety requirement as well as appear regularly in court so their progress can be monitored by their judges.
When individuals prove to be meeting the requirements and doing well, they may be rewarded with things like a reduction in the amount of time left. Failure to meet the requirements can result in punishment or sanctions.
How Drug Court Helps Offenders and Society
There are many benefits to utilizing drug court for eligible offenders rather than the traditional punitive system. Sources have estimated that of the 650,000 inmates that are released from prison each year, as many astwo-thirds or more will be behind bars again within three years of their release.
With many of those offenders either being addicted to alcohol or drugs or having committed a drug-related crime, drug court has the potential to offer these individuals a method of retribution that also allows them to overcome the disease that has caused them to resort to criminal behavior.
Drug court shows promise of reducing rates of recidivism (committing another crime and returning to prison after having completed a prior sentence) due to individuals receiving the treatment required to maintain sobriety by overcoming physical dependency and learning some of the underlying factors that contributed to the development of the disease.
Find Health and Happiness in Recovery
Recovery isn’t an overnight process. It takes time, conviction, and effort. However, individuals who are forced into sobriety via confinement without being given the treatments necessary to overcome the underlying issues is a major disservice to both people with SUD and an arrest record and society.