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Drug Courts Proving Effective in Reducing Crime, Substance Abuse - Addicted
Drug Courts Proving Effective in Reducing Crime, Substance Abuse
JoinTogether.orgMonday, October 26, 1998 Like many other judges across the nation, Judge John Schwartz was unhappy with the lack of success that his city, Rochester, NY and its criminal courts were having in rehabilitating drug offenders. "I saw that the work that we were doing through the usual means with the drug-addiction cases that were clogging our criminal courts was not working," he says.
The year was 1993, and Schwartz had heard about a new innovation called drug courts. Opting for treatment instead of purely punitive measures, the handful of drug courts then in operation had begun to report some rather impressive results reflected in recidivism rates that were much lower than those of traditional defendants and probationers who had been convicted for comparable crimes related to drug addiction.
These courts had adopted a new approach emphasizing treatment of drug-addicted defendants instead of purely punitive measures, and the outcomes were starting to attract attention. They certainly caught Schwartz's. That year, Schwartz attended an informal conference at the nation's first drug court, in Miami, "and I came back to Rochester convinced that it would work."
The Rochester Drug Court opened for business in January, 1995, and today Schwartz reports that his initial conviction was correct: It works. Now that the court has been operating for nearly four years, its success is measurable. According to Schwartz, the court has "graduated" 250 people from its two-year treatment program and only 5 percent have been re-arrested.
Because of the success of drug courts like the one in Rochester, the 1996 Federal Crime Bill recognized the importance of their more therapeutic approach and made start-up funds available. As a result, their numbers have mushroomed. Today, according to the Drug Court Clearinghouse and Technical Assistance Project (DCCTAP), which is operated by the Justice Department's drug-courts program office, there are more than 200 drug courts in the U.S. with many more set to open or in the planning stages.
The development of these courts is a reflection of an evolution in thinking about the relationships between drugs, addiction, crime, punishment, and treatment. A 1995 study by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice showed quite conclusively that the link between drug use and crime is even stronger than most people suspected. The study found that more than half of male defendants and more than 40 percent of female defendants in 23 cities were under the influence of at least one drug at the time of their arrest.
While the findings of the report revealed the extent of the troubling relationship between drugs and crime, it also cast into harsh light the wisdom of the criminal justice system's response in dealing with drug-dependent criminals. Typically, defendants convicted of drug offenses ar...