As May comes to an end, it is important to take notice of National Drug Court Month. New Jersey has used drug court programs for over a decade now, implementing the first drug court programs in Bergen, Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem, Monmouth, Morris/Sussex and Ocean Vicinages in 2002 and completing implementation in September 2004 when the rest of the court vicinages in Atlantic/Cape May, Burlington, Hudson, Middlesex and Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren became operational.*
Drug courts act as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. They allow for a more collaborative relationship between criminal justice officials and drug treatment professionals. The typical drug court program entails close supervision of the offender, frequent drug testing, several court appearances, and a strict treatment and recovery process. Drug courts are limited to eligible substance-abusing offenders, who are charged with non-violent crimes and have no prior violent crime convictions.*
As Ed Dimon, Esq. of CLLD & S explains, “these are good people, who have made some really bad decisions, and [drug court] gives them a shot.” Drug court participants are not given a free pass, but rather an opportunity to recover from their addictions and repay their debt to society without lengthy jail time. There are also financial benefits for the public by limiting prison and litigation costs, which results in savings of $3,000 to $13,000 per drug court participant.**
The success of any drug court lies in its ability to strike an important balance. It is more focused on rehabilitation and individual recovery than a typical criminal court, but also provides the same deterrent effect of the criminal system by enforcing criminal penalties against participants who do not cooperate.* As the use of drug courts increases across the country, there is hope that non-violent substance abusers will receive the help they need and have the incentive to want to help themselves.
* New Jersey Courts, Drug Courts, http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/drugcourt/
** National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Drug Courts Work, http://www.nadcp.org/learn/facts-and-figures