Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jury still out on drug courts?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 at 12:11 PM

One day Georgia's drug courts are being praised, the next certain ones are suspect — and other days, we're left to wonder if it's coincidental that our pro-drug court Governor has a son running one in Hall County (and, that evidence of their efficacy happens to come from said county).

A study released this month by the Justice Policy Institute — a group that says its mission is to "reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities" — claims drug courts aren't all they're cracked up to be. Basically, the study concluded that communities nationwide are relying too heavily on drug court — not necessarily as an alternative to incarceration, but as a way to deal with addiction.

The flaw, says the study, is the inherent necessity than an addict commit a crime before he or she receives treatment. JPI apparently fears that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are casting too-wide a net, and pursuing minor cases they wouldn't otherwise. The report's author, Nastassia Walsh, said, “It is shameful that for many people involvement in the criminal justice system is the only way to access substance abuse treatment in this country.”

In an interview with the Times-Georgian, Carroll County Drug Court Coordinator Susan Bagby Alexander balked at the insinuation that police and prosecutors would use back-end programs as an excuse to arrest and prosecute drug offenders:

“Drug-related crime has been an issue in most communities. Addicts sometimes get arrested because they have committed a crime, not because there’s a drug court out there looking for clients. The police don’t have to go out and look for folks to arrest. The prosecutors don’t add to their already huge case loads just to look for clients they can send to the drug court. People are getting arrested because they are breaking the law, not due to what’s available for them after the fact.”

Gov. Deal — in a push to reduce the amount of money Georgia spends incarcerating prisoners each year — has advocated increasing the use of drug and mental health courts to divert minor offenders to treatment rather than prison.

H/T to GAColumn on Twitter.

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