A federally-funded study reported by Youth Today found that alternatives to handling drug cases, such as specialized courts that usher more people into rehab, can sharply drop recidivism rates and produce deep cost cuts in an overwhelmed criminal justice system. “The easing of penalties for drug crimes in some states has gone hand in hand with the expansion of drug courts,” said Nicole Porter, director of advocacy for the Washington-based Sentencing Project.
There were some discouraging findings in the report, including that courts appear to have little impact on homelessness, depression, and family emotional support. Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project said drug courts work “for a very selective audience,” where the offenders have bottomed out, or are in dire need of treatment. “If that marriage of circumstances exists, they can be very beneficial in cutting down on all the negatives.” He cautions against an expansion of drug courts that pushes intense treatment on the casual user who might rebel against the rehab, especially at a young age, and get caught in a cycle of offending. “They can fail, and miserably,” he said.