Topical look: drug courts as alternatives to incarceration

As noted in a recent media story, Indiana officials have been long-time adherents of drug courts, with the state first establishing such entities a generation ago, back in 1996.

Unfortunately, one of those courts is now scheduled to close.

The rationale behind drug courts is direct and simple, and driven by this belief held by many criminal law reformers, legislators, defense attorneys and others: drug courts as an alternative to incarceration are broadly effective across myriad fronts.

For starters, they are demonstrably cheaper, with many studies showing that it costs far less to work with and rehabilitate a convicted drug offender than to simply lock him or her up.

And that rehabilitation aspect is key, with ample evidence to indicate that drug court participants have a lower recidivism rate than do inmates ultimately freed from prison and are better prepared for a full and productive reintegration into society.

And thus it is certainly notable whenever a drug court closes, which is set to be the case in one western Indiana area. Reportedly, the Vigo County Drug Court in Terre Haute will stop operations before the end of the year owing to financial constraints.

That outcome will of course have a material impact on possible criminal sentencing outcomes for some offenders. It will also ironically lead to the result that more persons convicted of drug crimes will be locked up as a penalty, which was the less-preferred solution that gave rise to drug courts in the first place.

The drug-court closure underscores the various programs and initiatives set up to help select offenders avoid incarceration and more effectively engage in rehabilitation and social reintegration.

A proven criminal defense attorney always looks at every sentencing possibility that might be available for a client and that can best promote his or her interests. Where a drug-court option is available, it has often proven highly effective.