A drug court is a type of problem solving court. It is focused on solving the issue of why the crime was committed rather than just punishing the criminal. Drug courts are typically for non-violent offenders, and for offenders who commit crimes because they are addicted to drugs, instead of offenders who commit crimes and do drugs. The first drug court began in the 1980’s in Miami; since then the courts has begun to spread all over the United States. Drug Courts focus on the person who is committing the crime rather than the crime committed. They allow people, who sincerely want to make a change in their life, the opportunity to get help. “The essential ingredients are enhanced judicial oversight, lengthier case management (including post-sentencing supervision), and a general philosophy of restorative rather than retributive justice.” (Butts) There are currently only twenty-nine drug courts in Virginia. Sixteen of them are adult courts, eight are juvenile drug courts, two are DUI courts, and three are family drug treatment courts. In fact if you live in Northern Virginia, or central Virginia, there are only three courts that are even in driving distance (Rockville Maryland, DC, and Prince William Virginia). While some may refer to these courts as “soft and cuddly”, the programs help offenders fight addiction and become successful members of society. States all over the country are investing in programs such as drug courts to reduce recidivism rates. The programs differ greatly by state, and sometimes even county. I’ve only had the pleasure of observing the Prince William County Juvenile Drug Court so my information will be based off of their court proceedings. “The mission of the Prince William County Juvenile Drug Court is to reduce repeated delinquent behavior in non-violent substance-abusing juveniles through a partnership of family, community, private and government agencies, resulting in juveniles who are alcohol and drug abstinent, law abiding, and productive members of our community.” To participate in the program, the offender must have been charged with a crime and be on probation; the charges must be non-violent. In Prince William County, their probation officer is the one who recommends the offender for the program. “In exchange for reduction of or dismissal of charges, participants receive intensive outpatient treatment, random urinalysis, home-based family and individual therapy and intensive probation supervision.” Therefore, if the offender successfully completes the program and graduates from it, the charges will be dismissed. This is a serious compensation because it means they will be eligible for financial aid, and when filling out an employment application they will be able to answer no to the question of whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. The charges will not be expunged, meaning if they have to have a background check done for an employer, the charges will still be on their record; but the program will show the employer that they went through a great deal to improve themselves. According to the Prince William county juvenile probation officer I spoke with, the program is no joke. It’s tough for offenders because it requires so much out of them, and it can be a lot to take in for first time offenders who aren’t use to reporting in to anybody. The Prince William County Drug Court opened in 2004, like other drug courts, it’s a fairly new program. While research is constantly being done on these new therapeutic courts, research has shown to support that they do reduce recidivism rates. Reducing recidivism is not only important to the offenders. It’s important as a society, that we fix the problems that lead to people from entering a life of crime; it’s important to us as a community to help one other, to protect our neighbors, and to prevent our children by putting an end to the factors that cause people to commit crimes. If, as a society we can help people from becoming reoffenders, we’re helping our communities become stronger.
Butts, Jeffery. (2001). “Introduction: Problem Solving Courts” Law & Policy 23(2):121-124.
Amanda, GMU Intern at Friends of Guest House