Drug Addiction Treatment Instead of Jail Time
Repeat drug offenders deserve mandatory jail time. However, people who are arrested for the first time for a drug offense may deserve a chance at rehabilitation within a treatment facility. While many judicial systems utilize the use of drug treatment programs within the jail system, there is currently a push for alternative drug programs-based within hospitals and clinics. Close supervision can prevent drug-addicted criminals from becoming repeat offenders. That has created a national system of six hundred drug courts that currently provide treatment and counseling to inmates as an alternative to regular jail time (Yang, 1999).
The Los Angeles Times reports (Greene, 2000) that one answer to the problem of jail overcrowding has a simple and cost-effective solution. The Orange County jail system is currently overcrowded due to sentencing drug offenders to jail time instead of residential rehabilitation. The County Sheriff cites statistics that show utilizing the programs within the residential treatment centers for rehabilitation of drug offenders was not only cheaper to the citizens, but this sentencing also lessens the chance of repeat offenses. While the overcrowding of the jails are an issue, the “answer is not to build more jails but to fund more residential treatment centers with trained substance abuse counselors.”
Supporters of treatment programs feel the judicial system should needs to allow for treatment as a sentencing option and use it more frequently. Lawyers and judges need to educate themselves concerning different treatment options and treat each case individually to provide the best option for treatment. Probation officers will have the opportunity to visit their clients at the treatment center while citizens should be educated on the benefits of this type of program. By advertising positive exposure to the possibility of a residential treatment center within a neighborhood, citizens would become more tolerant to this situation.
California voters recently passed a law that requires nonviolent drug offenders to enter a drug treatment program instead of serving time in jail. While many law enforcement groups objected, the California State Legislature estimates that approximately 36,000 people will have access to treatment and counseling. If first time drug offenders had to serve time in jail, they would not have the adequate help they might need in order to overcome the addiction (Peters, 2000).
Orange County Studies (Yang, 1999) showed that the costs for a participant are $3,000 a year compared to $2,000-$2,500 for traditional drug courts. But a new study found that Orange County’s approach is paying off in other ways. Most programs have 34% repeat offenders. However, with the supervised rehabilitation treatment program, only 22% of those completing the program are seen within the county courts for a second time. Yang states that the study, which was commissioned by the Center for Applied Local Research and conducted by a Cal State Long Beach professor, “found the program a successful means to break the cycle of illicit drug abuse and criminal behavior.”
To become a candidate for the program, the drug addict must be accused of a nonviolent crime such as burglary and narcotics possession to live at home and attend individual and group counseling sessions. Participants also meet monthly for evaluations with a judge, attend daily twelve-step meetings and are subject to unannounced drug tests and in-home inspections. Court officials select only those people who show promise of remaining sober. Currently, there are three hundred people in the program. Fifteen months is the length of the average stay.
Those offenders who go through the program meet with the judge at the end of the fifteen months. The judge asks questions and completes an evaluation of the participant. Many offenders are successful and encouraged by the judge to remain sober and drug-free. Those who complete the program successfully reclaim their life. The counseling and the close surveillance from probation officers are credited with helping the most.
San Antonio, Texas (Nazareno, 2002) is also establishing a “therapeutic model” drug court to determine if nonviolent offenders who have problems with drug or alcohol abuse would benefit from drug treatment programs rather than sending them to spend time in jail or the traditional probation system. The state passed legislation in 2001 that requires the San Antonio area to have the court in place and functional by September of 2003. San Antonio is basing its court system upon the proven track record of the areas of Dallas and Austin. The concept is to weekly test participants for use of drugs or alcohol and requires them to become active members in Alcoholics Anonymous and drug treatment programs.
If anyone who is sentenced to participate in the program messes up by taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol, they are sent to jail for the remainder of their sentence. County Court-at-Law Judge Al Alonso states, “If you treat the drug problem, the thinking is it will cut down on the recidivism,” he said. “But treatment by itself does not work. You need to have the threat of jail time to make it work.” Alonso meets with a committee of prosecutors, defense lawyers and rehabilitation counselors regularly to establish program guidelines. The Justice Department is also working with Alonso for training so the county can qualify and apply for federal funding to support the court program. While the official program is not yet in place, the judge is currently working with seventy-five people who face misdemeanor drug possession or drunken driving charges. They have been placed into a drug or alcohol treatment program instead of being sent to spend time in jail. So far, each of them has been able to stay clean and successful. The idea of the court is to stop problems early, before defendants become chronic offenders or commit felonies, and to “help people get better and out of the system,” said Joan Padrade, county court assistant administrator. “Because people who are in the system cost a lot of money, and people who recommit cost a lot more money,” she said. “It is an investment to treat people.”
The article, The Motivation for Drug Abuse Treatment: Testing Cognitive and 12-Step Theories (Bell, D.. Montoya, I., Richard, A., & Dayton. C., 1998) discusses the immediate motivation for the change in behavior that the courts place upon the drug offender who is sentenced to seek help and spend time in a drug rehabilitation program. While many therapists have questioned a person’s motivation for self-help, those who must participate or spend time in jail show a desire for behavior change in order to keep or save their lives. Bell discusses the Health Belief Model and the cognitive theories of behavior change with a 12-step theory.
The 12-step theory is different from other theories. It defines that when a person hits bottom they experience an emotional and cognitive feeling that motivates them to reevaluate their options for behavior. A person who survives this fall is forced to focus on the events that led up to the experience. However, the effects of the experience itself are not reduced to the effects of reflection on the experience.
According to the 12-step theory, a person will not change their behavior until someone or something happens to transform the emotional component of a drug user’s attitude and makes the person reflect on what has happened, thus the experience becomes cognitive. It is when “drug users ‘hit bottom’ that the severe consequences of their addiction can be perceived as consequences that matter to them, and it is not until these perceived consequences matter to them that they can take the first step toward recovery.” By hitting bottom, the drug user feels powerless and loses control of their life. This painful realization is a negative self-image and creates very low self-esteem. The 12-step theory begins by focusing on the person spiraling out of control and hitting bottom…