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Drug Courts Provide Effective Alternative to Incarceration, Report Says


July 1997

Drug courts are providing a substantive and cost-effective alternative to standard incarceration, and are reducing recidivism rates, according to a recent study by Drug Strategies. By offering court-supervised drug treatment to certain offenders, these new courts are presenting a solution to the country's overcrowded jails, according to the report ("Cutting Crime: Drug Courts in Action," Drug Strategies, 1997).

Some drug courts target only first time offenders, while others concentrate on repeat offenders. In the drug court system, offenders who fail to remain drug-free during treatment are subject to a graduated series of sentencing and prosecution.

According to the report, "Rearrest rates among drug court graduates are lower than for drug abusing offenders who have been released from prison or are on probation." Recidivism ranges from 5% to 28% for those who were at some point in their case involved in the program, and it is only 4% for graduates of drug court program. A 1996 Drug Court Clearinghouse and Technical Assistance Project study found that in the Miami drug courts, 3% of drug court participants were rearrested within one year, as compared to 30% of those in the comparison group who were not in the drug court program. In Austin, Texas, the recidivism rate for drug court participants was 25%, the rate for the comparison group was 59%. "We are seeing dramatic reductions in recidivism. They aren't committing crimes anymore. They are getting jobs, supporting their families, helping their kids," said Margaret Beaudry, research director at Drug Strategies.

There are over 300 drug courts in the nation, located in 48 states and Washington, DC, with many more in development. New York City's drug court, the Brooklyn Treatment Court, which began a year ago, recently received over $6.5 million in funding for the next five years from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the Justice Department. The latest figures indicate that most people who enter the Brooklyn Treatment Court stay in the program, as shown by the its 82% retention rate (Warren Richey, "Drug Courts: More Evidence They Reduce Repeat Offenses," Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1997, p. 1; Christopher Wren, "New Court Lets Drug Addicts Choose Treatment Program Instead of Jail," New York Times, May 27, 1997, p. A18; Jennifer Gonnerman, "Justice for Junkies," The Village Voice (New York), June 3, 1997, p. 50; Warren Richey, "Drug Courts: More Evidence They Reduce Repeat Offenses," Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1997, p. 1).

However in Montgomery County, Maryland, the prosecutor recently toughened referral criteria for the drug treatment program, known as the Intervention Program for Substance Abuse, fearing that it was being abused by drug dealers. New State's Attorney Robert Dean tightened the restrictions on who is eligible for the program, limiting it to first-time offenders "who appear to be highly motivated to maintain a clear criminal record and to avoid future criminal activity." A weapons charge or felony drug charge will make an offender ineligible for the program (Jon Jeter, "Montgomery Toughens Drug Treatment Program," Washington Post, June 17, 1997, p. B3).

The Drug Strategies report, which is based on interviews with many law enforcement agents and judges in most of the country's drug courts, found the drug court programs to be popular. Drug courts require many members of the law enforcement community to work together. "What these programs do is they require a level of coordination and partnership that in a very significant way changes the dynamic [of the criminal justice system]," said Jeffrey Tauber, president of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. New Jersey Attorney General Peter Verniero said, "I think more and more the law enforcement community is coming to the conclusion this is an extremely valuable tool."

Drug Strategies - 2445 M Street, NW, Suite 480, Washington, DC 20037, Tel: (202) 663-6090, Fax: (202) 663-6110,

National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 901 N. Pitt St., Suite 300, Alexandria, VA 22314, Tel: (703) 706-0576.