A long-term disagreement between addiction experts and courts has created a two-tiered system for taking care of people who are repeat drug and alcohol offenders. The primary aim of both programs is to prevent a return to substance abuse and to make a more realistic use of tax dollars. The argument between judges, prosecutors, and treatment specialists has developed along the lines of punishment opposed to treatment.
The Drug Problem (In a Nutshell)
Those who demand punishment cannot be viewed as antagonistic to the addict or treatment. The punishment also involves drug or alcoholism treatment. Those who promote treatment first are criticized for leniency by a less than knowledgeable public.
Jail alone has been proven to produce a more adept addict. Getting drugs in jail is easy. Inmates, guards, and family members regularly supply drugs to addicts in prison. The addicts then receive more prison time for failing a drug test. The guards that supply the drugs are rarely punished.
Drug Testing Impossible to Comply With
Court-ordered treatment also involves a routine of regular testing for banned substances that has proven inconvenient if not impossible for offenders to comply with. Multiple weekly drug tests, attending a defined number of meetings per week, and in-person counseling can be impossible for addicts who have neither the money to pay for the drug tests nor the vehicle to drive themselves to meetings.
Alcoholics that have been convicted lose their license for up to five years after three offenses. The impossibility of obeying drug court orders often results in addicts being jailed despite their inability to comply with the courts regardless of their willingness to comply.
California Judge Takes Personal Approach
Judge Joe Perez has devised a workable compromise between the warring factions in his self-designed drug court in Santa Ana, California. This is a very personal approach that puts the judge face to face with each person convicted of a crime involving addiction.
“Instead of serving time in jail, what we do is we bring them in with intensive treatment, with an eye of keeping them out of the jail and then keeping them from ever coming back into the system. And we have done both of those.”
Perez is neither too lenient nor too hardnosed in his approach. He has been known to send people to jail who blatantly disregarded the rules established for their probation and recovery. Perez takes the time to listen to the addict, their attorney, and experts in the particular addiction that a person has.
Court Drug Programs Successful
To date, Perez’s approach has seen a definite change for the better in drug court and the recovery of the addicted. The offenders view the judge as an ally and a mentor. The judge sees people as people and not addicts or a piece of paper to process.
“We are saving lives and we are saving money. Since our inception in 1995, I think our numbers are about $86 million dollars that we have saved in jail bed costs. And then we’ve had countless lives that we have helped in doing so.”
The success of this approach has been documented in the lower costs involved in dealing with addiction in the drug courts and has been promoted as an example of how drug courts across the United States need to deal with the problem of addiction and addicts.