Arizona CASA/FCRB Training (2010) observes that judicial systems all over the world, especially in the United States of America have somewhat modest intermediate punishment for offense. Offenders are either offered routine probation that at times equates with obligatory supervision or incarcerated. Because the magnitude of the crimes committed do not fall into two neat partitions, sentencing options often errs in one way or another. The sentencing is either too soft, offering routine probation to individuals whose offenses and criminality call for stronger penalty or supervision or too harsh and putting those whose crimes do not guarantee behind the bars. Due to these realities, states have been encouraged to give sentencing alternatives, which punish without involving incarceration, a consideration. One of these alternatives is the drug courts.
A drug court is a special court that is charged with the responsibility of handling cases concerning offenders of substance-abuse by comprehensive supervision, carrying out drug testing, offering treatment services and instantaneous incentives and sanctions. They offer a comprehensive, therapeutic and supportive approach as a substitute to traditional systems of prosecuting cases that involve offenders incriminated with substance abuse. The comprehensive approach gives the participants an all-embracing treatment program that takes into account a collaboration of treatment providers, judge, defense counsel, case managers and prosecutor with the judge working as both a leader of the group and a team member. To promote and encourage substance free behavior, they employ the use of a non-adversarial approach (Arizona CASA/FCRB Training, 2010).
Goals of drug courts
A drug court has its goals key among them being to stop substance abuse and the criminal activities related to it. They are unique and exceptional in the criminal justice system sector because for they develop a collaborative relationship between drug treatment professionals and the criminal justice (Berman & Bergman, 2009).
Benefits of a drug court
There are many reasons for why drug courts are being advocated for instead of incarceration. First of all they have proved to decrease recidivism and stop relapse that goes a long way in reducing overcrowding in our overcrowded jails. Research and statistical evidence share this fact that drug courts have helped diminish criminal activities. For instance, a study conducted in 2008 by the school of social work of the University of Utah indicated that rates of recidivism for local drug court graduates stayed at a steady 7%. This is contrary to the statistics from US Justice Department which indicates that approximately 45 % of offenders who are jailed for similar offenses but have not been involved in drug court will relapse and commit another offense (Arizona CASA/FCRB Training, 2010). The rate of recidivism is yet higher, at 60%, among offenders jailed for their convictions. It is very clear that decreased recidivism decreases overcrowding in jails.
Berman & Bergman (2009), assert that secondly drug courts helps to save tax-payers money hence the savings can be channeled for other developments. For instance, to treat one drug court offender, it costs about $7 a day. This figure is far much cheaper compared to $50 that is used to incarcerate one offender in a state prison. This can be witnessed by Arizona State which has realized major financial benefits of the drug court program. it is estimated that the total amount that was saved by Maricopa County was $ 129, 347.40 in the year 2001 due to avoiding incarceration.
There are significant public health gains brought about by drug courts. According to the US Department of Justice, more than 500 drugs free babies are reported to have been delivered to participants (female) of drug court after being enrolled in the program. Other programs like alumni support groups also reiterate long-term success and provide participants with tools and experience needed to reconstruct their lives (Steinberg, 2010).
Drug courts also offer vocational training and/or education opportunity to participants that help to reduce the call for public assistance while at the same time equipping them self sufficiency skills. Lastly, adoption of a life style that is drug-free and breaking addiction cycle has indicated reduced hospital, medical and emergency room costs (Berman & Bergman, 2009).
Eligibility and qualification
It should be noted that drug courts program is voluntary and open to any one meeting the eligibility prerequisites. Offenders eligible for this program must be charged with an offense that is eligible for probation. Secondly they must not be having any prior felony arrests for a sexual offense or violent crime (Arizona CASA/FCRB Training, 2010). At the same time, the offenders should not be having any pending felony charge other than being a legal residence of the area. Lastly, they must be willing to take part in all features of the Drug Court program.
There is a number of other alternative sentencing/ intermediate sanctions programs (ISPs) that seek to reduce the rate of incarceration. Among them, the most popular one are house arrests, electronic monitoring, parole (intensive probation), boot camps, community service, day reporting centers and parole caseloads (Berman & Bergman, 2009).
Electronic monitoring and house arrest
House arrest program is where by offenders are legally demanded to stay in their residences for the period of the sentence. They may be permitted to leave their houses for employment and medical reasons. This may be enforced by utilizing electronic supervision which entails use of electronic monitoring devices. According to research, electronic supervision is an effective approach for alternative sentence as those who serve under it experience very low rates of recidivism 0f between 11-12 % (Arizona CASA/FCRB Training, 2010).
Day reporting centers and Residential community corrections programs
These are program that sentence offenders to serve their punishment in small housing facilities that are run by private agencies but with the permission from the courts. Residents are at times allowed to attend treatment and work during the day and go back to the facility at night (Steinberg, 2010). Day reporting centers usually do not stay with offenders overnight. Studies have indicated that is alternative approach helps to reduce the rates of relapse and recidivism.
Parole (Intensive Supervision Probation)
This is presently the most popular intermediate sanction program. The programs are available in all fifty states of the United States of America because of their success. Offenders who are sentenced to parole system are monitored closely on small caseloads where they normally perform community work, pay restitution to victims; additionally they must hand in random alcohol and urine testing, be working, pay the fee for probation/parole. Researches indicate that the program is a great success and it helps to restore justice and harmony between the offenders, victims and the community. More that 80% of those under this program do not commit similar crimes again (Berman & Bergman, 2009).
Drug courts have offered a helpful mode of alternative sentencing in the criminal judicial systems. Through handling cases concerning offenders of substance-abuse by comprehensive supervision, carrying out drug testing, offering treatment services and instantaneous incentives and sanctions, these courts have helped to reduce the rates of recidivism and relapse. Consequently overcrowding in the jails has considerably reduced and the federal state has saved a lot of tax-payers money. This is as good as saying that alternative sentencing is far much better that incarceration that only seeks to spend a lot of money on some offenders who could have better been subjected to intermediate sentencing programs.