Drug Courts Help Addicts Turn Their Lives Around

By Staff Writer

It wasn’t an easy two years for Matt, one of the recent graduates of a drug court program in the Midwest, according to the Daily Gate City. However, after taking part in the initiative, which included mandatory substance abuse treatment rather than jail time, he has managed to stay off of drugs and away from crime.

Matt, who asked to keep his last name withheld, was recently honored for his success in a ceremony at the courthouse. He was also asked by a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous to serve on a regional committee. The news source reports that all of this represents a major turnabout in his life.

This type of success story is becoming increasingly common. A growing number of judicial districts across the country are adopting drug court programs. These initiatives generally allow individuals who have been charged with non-violent drug-related crimes to plead guilty and enter addiction treatment centers rather than go to jail. The belief is that this will reduce the number of addicts and the number of incarcerated individuals.

In order to spur the further development of these types of programs, a group of federal agencies recently administered millions of dollars in grants to local drug courts. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) gave a total of $76 million to help districts initiate or expand their drug court services.

Officials said that recent studies have shown that offenders who participate in drug courts are significantly less likely to participate in drug-related or criminal activity 18 months after they have completed the program.

“We know that drug courts are central to reducing drug abuse and to keeping communities safe. These grants will help communities launch new drug courts and enhance courts where they already exist,” said Laurie Robinson, an assistant district attorney with the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice programs.

Pamela Hayes, an administrator of SAMHSA, added that more than 60 percent of the individuals in jail have substance abuse problems. She suggested that reducing the number of people who have addiction issues could result in less crime and limit overcrowding in prisons.

There are currently more than 2,200 drug court programs in the U.S. that will receive funding from the grant. However, that number is steadily growing. Inspired by the promising results of established initiatives, law enforcement officials across the country are looking into launching similar programs.

For example, County Council members of one Midwest state recently approved a budget that funds a drug court program for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to the Evansville Courier Press.

One council member told the news source that he had looked into the effectiveness of these types of alternative sentencing efforts in other districts and found that they often delivered results that were far superior to more traditional forms of sentencing.

By focusing on ways that addicts can improve their lives, rather than simply punishing them for their crimes, drug courts can help individuals make significant changes that may help them rejoin society as a productive member.

Officials from a program in the Southeast told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel that they are able to spend a significant amount of time with individuals in the program, which is one reason for the benefits over traditional sentencing.

The substance abuse program helps women who have codependency issues and men with low self-esteem. Workers can take time to get to know each participant individually, which helps them deliver better results.

It is efforts like these that have helped a growing number addicts, just like Matt, recover from their substance abuse problems and go on to happy, healthy lives.