Drug courts are courts that oversee the reformation and rehabilitation of non-violent drug offenders (Cole & Gertz, 2012). Under these courts all stakeholders of the criminal justice system work in tandem to ensure that those going through the program are reformed and rehabilitated. The drug courts supervise the treatment program especially through regular review of the offender to ascertain the progress made. The court normally rewards the offender where there is positive progress, and imposes sanctions where the offender has regressed or violated any of the conditions that had been imposed. There are drug courts for adults, juveniles, and families.
Under most drug court programs, the offender is committed to a treatment and rehabilitation program for at least a year. The offender gets rigorous treatment during the period as well as other services pertinent to their rehabilitation. As noted in the forgoing, the offender is required to attend the drug court for evaluation and review. Additionally, they are subjected to customary and random tests to ensure that they are clean and sober at all times (Cole & Gertz, 2012).
Historically, drug courts came into being due to emphasis on rehabilitative justice. Prior to their formation, emphasis on punishment was found ineffective in addressing the wide spread drug problem. Even though contemporarily the emphasis on rehabilitation has gone down, drug courts are quite popular due to the gains that they have achieved. It is however important to note that they too, like any other court, have challenges.
The main advantage of drug courts is that they provide the most efficient way to deal with the drug problem. Compared to other related programs in the criminal justice system, drug courts are by far the most effective, especially in achieving community safety. Community safety is attained by weeding out violent criminals and regulating the drug population (Cole & Gertz, 2012). Additionally, most drug courts are community centered thus to some extent provide an opportunity for community policing, which enhances safety in the community.
Another advantage of drug courts is that they save costs, both to the state and the offender. The alternative to the drug court program is incarceration, which costs the state more. It is estimated that maintaining a prisoner costs over fifty dollars a day, compared to the twenty it costs a day for an offender in the drug court program. It follows then that the state spends less on drug court programs that it would have had the same offender been incarcerated. The non-adversarial nature of the drug courts also assists the offender to save money that would have otherwise been expended on their defense.
On the other hand drug courts pose various challenges. One of the challenges is that to some extent they operate outside the established jurisprudential framework. For starters, they favor a non-adversarial approach to the justice system, which might occasion incompatibility issues as they operate in an established adversarial system. Secondly, offenders in the drug courts are treated differently than those in the other courts; this might raise discrimination issues. This challenge means that the drug courts may be caught up in controversial theoretical and jurisprudential debates that may impede their functionality.
Another disadvantage is that drug courts lack uniformity as they are run differently even within a state. This lack of uniformity gives latitude to the judge to preside over the court, which might raise issues of judicial activism or discriminatory practices. The lack of uniformity also deprives the courts certainty and consistency.
Recidivism in drug courts is much lower than in conventional courts. Indeed prior to the formation of the drug courts it was discovered that drug offenders returned to drug abuse once they were released from incarceration. Additionally, the problem of drug use requires some aspect of science, which aspect is catered for through treatment in the drug courts program. Though treatment does not mean that an offender cannot go back to drug use, nonetheless chances of a treated offender reverting to drug use are far minimal than an untreated offender.
In conclusion therefore, drug courts are not the ultimate cure for drug use. Indeed they also present challenges to the criminal justice system. However, they provide a more efficient solution to the drug problem than the conventional courts. In addition they are less expensive than the other related programs. In this regard, the benefits of the drug courts far outweigh the cons or challenges. Accordingly, it is advisable that more investment is made in the drug courts. Such investment should not only be monetary but also jurisprudential and institutional, to enhance their efficiency.
Cole, G.F. and Gertz, M.G. (2012). The Criminal Justice System: Politics and Policies (10th Ed).
California: Wadsworth Publishing Company. Print.