McDowell Technical Community College

Drugs Drugs Drugs

By Barbara Harrell

There are many prospectives on the drug issues that we face in society today. After a conversation with our district attorney I decided to shine the light on 2 of these.

The first is Drug Courts.  For over two decades, Drug Courts have led the charge towards a more humane, cost effective justice system. Research demonstrates that Drug Courts provide a highly effective alternative to incarceration for individuals whose involvement in the criminal justice system is rooted in serious addiction to drugs and alcohol.

A Good Definition is:  A special court with jurisdiction over cases involving drug-using offenders. Drug courts are treatment based alternatives to prisons, youth-detention facilities, jails, and probation. These courts make extensive use of comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services, immediate sanctions, and incentives.

Drug courts concentrate the efforts of judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, substance-abuse treatment specialists, probation officers, law enforcement and correctional personnel, educational and vocational experts, community leaders, and others on individuals who are charged with illicit drug abuse. The criminal justice system works cooperatively with treatment systems and others to provide an offender with the necessary tools to get into recovery, stay in recovery, and lead a productive, crime-free life.

The drug court acts to help the offender change his or her life in order to stop criminal activity, rather than focusing only on punishment of the offender. Drug courts also help to provide consistent responses to drug offenses among the judiciary, and they can foster coordination between intervention agencies and resources, thus increasing the cost-effectiveness of drug-intervention programs. Successful completion of the drug court’s treatment or intervention regimen usually results in the dismissal of drug charges, shortened or suspended sentences, or a combination of these. Participants acquire the wherewithal to rebuild their lives.

At first, drug courts were geared toward adult populations. The successes of adult drug courts in intervention and in changing the lives of adult offenders prompted juvenile courts to establish similar drug court programs aimed at juvenile offenders. Juvenile drug courts likewise have proven successful, and now many jurisdictions include family drug courts that primarily hear substance-abuse and neglect cases.

Differing needs across jurisdictions have resulted in a variety of drug courts in terms of their structure, scope, and target populations, but they all share three primary goals: reduction of recidivism, reduction of substance abuse among participants, and rehabilitation of participants.

To achieve these goals, drug courts generally structure them

  • Incorporation of drug testing into case processing.
  • Creation of a non-adversarial relationship between the offender and the court.
  • Identification of offenders who are in need of treatment and referring them to treatment as soon as possible after arrest.
  • Access to a continuum of treatment and rehabilitation services.
  • Monitoring of abstinence through frequent, mandatory drug testing.
  • Establishment of a coordinated strategy to govern drug court responses to offenders’ compliance.
  • Maintenance of judicial interaction with each drug court participant.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of program goals and effectiveness.
  • Continuing education to promote effective drug court planning, implementation, and operations.
  • Forging of partnerships among drug courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations in order to generate local support and to enhance drug court effectiveness.

Drug courts can be used for a variety of case types and are adaptable enough to fit the needs and acceptability of any given community. Jurisdictions tailor their drug courts to meet the specific needs of their communities. Most drug courts are pre-plea courts, but some drug courts are post-plea, and others are used as a method of alternative sentencing. In a pre-plea program, charges are deferred while the defendant is actively participating in the drug court program. At that point in the process, he or she has not pled guilty to any charges. This program is designed principally for non-violent, first-time, low-risk offenders. Drug courts can be used for a variety of case types and are adaptable enough to fit the needs and acceptability of any given community. Jurisdictions tailor their drug courts to meet the specific needs of their communities.

The next question would be do they work?  Most of the data I have accessed has had improvement in recidivism as well as lower costs overall if taking into account future cost if they relapse.  There are a lot of factors that can influence the outcome of the success rate; even the interaction with a particular judge or personnel turnover.

Locally we have drug courts in several counties but not all.  This type of treatment would probably require inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities and our smaller counties don’t have enough of these.

One of the things I noted in researching the Drug Court was no mention of the faith-based community.  What could happen if the churches stepped up to fill the gaps in some of the treatment that is lacking in the system because of funding.  Our church is now involved in a program called “Celebrate Recovery”.  Could these types of programs be used to lessen the strain on the government budgets.

But, this leads me to the 2nd observation.  We need Christians to step up to the plate and begin to treat these people like God’s children.  When someone comes to your church dressed differently or maybe a little dirty or they have a drug reputation, what is your reaction?  Whether we will admit it or not, we probably withdraw a little.  They don’t need our condemnation, but a loving acceptance.   Could we become their friend?  Ask them to have coffee?  Take them out to eat? We need to get rid of our pharisaical attitude and know that as our attorney general said, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.”