Study Shows Drug Courts Need Retooling, Argues For Decriminalization

A new report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), “America’s Problem-Solving Courts; Criminal Cost of Treatment,” available here, finds drug courts need serious re-working . Among the recommendations:

  • A defendant should not be required to
    plead guilty before accessing treatment.
  • Admission criteria must be objective and fair, and prosecutors must relinquish their role as gatekeeper
  • the drug court framework must accommodate long-standing ethical rules.


  • Drug courts must be used for high-risk defendants facing lengthy jail terms;
  • less onerous and expensive alternatives to drug court must be readily available for low-risk
    defendants and those who commit low-level offenses.
  • Drug courts must be open to all people regardless of race, economic status, or immigration status; methodologically sound research must be done to ensure drug courts are open to all.

It's a long report that includes everything from the history of drug courts to why decriminalization is the smart, fair , economical and effective alternative to prisons:

The criminal justice system is overwhelmed with cases. Nearly 2,000,000 Americans are arrested each year for drug crimes, and 500,000 are currently incarcerated for a drug offense. These victimless crimes should never enter the criminal justice system.

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    So why link access (none / 0) (#1)
    by Fabian on Wed Sep 30, 2009 at 02:56:43 AM EST
    to drug treatment to the legal system at all?

    Sure it's a huge incentive to use the programs, but if you have to be arrested just to get in, that's a helluva price of admission.  

    Thanks for the link otherwise I would have (none / 0) (#2)
    by JSN on Wed Sep 30, 2009 at 10:11:07 AM EST
    been baffled by this post.

    A few comments and questions.

    Addiction to tobacco is a medical problem not a  criminal justice problem. In some jurisdictions is has become a civil justice problem. I am not aware of any jurisdictions where it has been made a criminal justice problem. How far do we want this to go?

    Addiction to alcohol is a medical problem that can become a criminal justice problem. Should it be  reduced to a civil justice problem?

    Addiction to drugs is a medical problem that has become a very costly criminal justice problem. Should there be two types of drug courts civil and criminal as they have in Portugal?

    FWIW I think we would have a better outcome with civil drug courts.

    A better solution (none / 0) (#3)
    by Chuck0 on Wed Sep 30, 2009 at 10:55:01 AM EST
    legalize marijuana and decriminalize possession of other drugs. The "War on Drugs" is really a war on the US citizenry. And it's a lost cause.

    myth about possession (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Wed Sep 30, 2009 at 09:10:52 PM EST
    Most drug court people have been convicted of DWI's, check forgery, larceny, etc.  It's not about possessing one joint and being arrested.  
    If you don't plead guilty before drug court then you'll spend your whole time in drug court/treatment saying that you didn't do it so that you don't incriminate yourself.  

    Drug court is just more Rube Goldberg (none / 0) (#5)
    by SeeEmDee on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 09:34:36 AM EST
    More knobs, switches and levers on an unworkable machine. You can't 'tweak' the DrugWar into working any more than you can get a dead horse to tap-dance. Enough, already! We can't afford the bloody DrugWar as is!

    Each year, officially 40 billion dollars are budgeted to 'fight drugs'. Well, what else could we do with that money? The cost of building and maintaining treatment centers for hard drug addicts would be a tiny part of that 40 billion budget, and vastly more effective than than buying police armored personnel carriers with .50 caliber machine guns. (And just who are they gonna use those on, peaceful tokers? Deadbeat dads? Or political demonstrators, perhaps?)

    We aren't a rich country anymore, in fact we're up to our hair follicles in debt thanks to trade imbalances and now the credit crunch. Millions of people are out of work and need help. They need the money that's being p!ssed away in the DrugWar. They don't need some fat-cat 'anti-drug' (like the drugs alcohol and nicotine, right?) bureaucrat intoning that they need money to 'save 'the chil-dren from druuuugs!' when those same kids are in danger of losing their homes and going hungry.

    And drug courts are just another way to try to keep wringing out a few more dollars from the taxpayers to keep a busted system propped up a la Potemkin Village fashion and give the facade of 'effectiveness' and 'compassion'.

    Those increasingly desperate unemployed out there are not going to conveniently die off. They're going to want help, and then soon demand it. And woe betide the politician who doesn't realize that continuing to support the wasteful War on Drugs in these tight times may cost them their meal tickets when those desperate people stop asking and start telling them they want the money spent for things like unemployment insurance, food stamps and emergency housing.