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Title:Drug Courts: The Cure for the American Legal System’s Addiction to Punishment
Author(s):Vanessa Pratt
Subject(s):Criminology
Abstract:In the American legal system, when a person commits a crime, he or she is arrested, given the right to a trial, and if he or she is convicted for that crime, he or she is punished. The purpose for implementing this type of punishment system is that when the judicial system punishes a person for committing a crime, he or she is likely to be deterred by that punishment and because of that deterrence, will not commit crimes in the future. Legal scholars have coined this system of punishment as deterrence theory. However, despite the American legal system’s focus on punishing offenders for their crimes, the rates of drug crimes across the country remains staggering. In fact, there are currently 83,271 drug-related offenders incarcerated in federal prisons across the United States (“Inmate Statistics”). Based on this data, it is clear that the current punishment method is not a viable option for drug offenders. This begs the question, if this system is not a viable option for drug offenders, how can the legal system effectively cut down on the number of drug offenders in the United States? The answer is simple: the American legal system needs to focus on rehabilitative efforts, such as drug court programs, rather than punishment for drug offenders. Drug courts treat drug addiction as a mental health issue and focus on treating the underlying causes of a person’s addiction through in-patient and outpatient treatment. The majority of drug court programs involve three different stages: detoxification, stabilization, and aftercare. During the detoxification phase, the offender enters in-patient treatment and the focus is to get him or her clean. While admitted into in-patient treatment, the offender attempts to work through the root cause of his or her drug addiction. Many drug offenders are people with a family history of drug addiction, or have gone through some sort of childhood trauma, including physical or sexual abuse, or may have mental illnesses (Lessenger and Roper). Once the offender has gotten clean, he or she moves onto the next phase of the program, the stabilization phase. During the stabilization phase, the focus is keeping the offender from relapsing. In this phase, the offender continues with outpatient treatment, including meeting with a counselor or attending group therapy. Lastly, during the aftercare phase, the offender is enrolled in classes, including GED courses and job placement courses, which give the offender an opportunity to gain hands-on skills, which will allow him or her to obtain a job after graduating the program. Through research of drug court programs from the perspectives of psychology, public health, and legal studies, it is clear that the treatment drug courts provides for addicts allows them to overcome their battle with addiction and return to their community as a reformed, productive member of society. Drug courts are important because drug abuse is a mental health issue, which cannot be treated through punishment alone. Studies have shown that when a person engages in substance abuse, the chemistry of his or her brain is altered, making the “high” felt from drug use the most important thing in that person’s hierarchy of needs (Heshmat). Drug offenders need professional help to overcome their battle with addiction, and that is what drug courts provide. In addition to the benefits for the offender, drug courts also have numerous benefits for the community as well. Through analysis of statistical studies completed on drug court programs, it is evident that drug court programs are a cheaper alternative to incarceration and have a lower recidivism rate. Incarceration costs taxpayers approximately $156,000 per offender, for the term of his or her sentence (Lessenger and Roper, 6-7). While on the other hand, drug court programs cost approximately $5,168 per offender (Finigan et al., 42). In addition to the statistical analysis of cost to taxpayers, “four independent meta-analyses have now concluded that drug courts significantly reduce crime rates an average of approximately 7 to 14 percentage points” (Huddleston et al., 6). It is abundantly clear the benefits that drug court programs provide society and offenders far outweigh the benefits incurred from imprisonment. The American legal system needs to shift its focus away from punishing addicts and rather focus on treating their underlying mental health issues. The legal system can accomplish this through the implementation of drug court programs, which are an effective way to cut down on drug crimes across the country, as the main sentence for drug offenders.
Issue Date:2017
Genre:Presentation / Lecture / Speech
Type:Text
Language:English
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/95988
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-05-02


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