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Is it better to incarcerate or treat a drug offender?

Drug crimes can easily land you in jail, but many experts wonder if incarceration is really the answer to treating a problem that seems to return once the jail doors are open. The United States pays over $80 billion a year to keep prisoners locked up, which is close to $260 a year for everyone in America. But court-ordered drug addiction treatment may prove to be a valuable alternative to a simple prison or jail sentence.

What causes drug addiction?

It may seem like doing drugs is all about having a good time and escaping reality, but most addicts know there are almost always additional underlying issues that contribute to the problem. Biology often is a cause, as addiction has a genetic component. The environment also plays a huge part in drug addiction. Those who face constant peer pressure, stress, sexual or physical abuse, or lack of parental involvement are more likely to develop some type of an addiction to escape reality. If drug use starts early, the development of the brain is interrupted, and it may be harder to stop in the future. Adolescents are more vulnerable to both environmental and genetic factors when it comes to drug addiction.

What is drug treatment court?

Rather than placing the focus on punishment and imprisonment, drug treatment courts have the goal of treating the addiction to help offenders stay out of trouble in the future. Many who spend time behind bars for drug crimes stay sober during their stay, but return to trouble the second they have the freedom to choose again, because their issues were not treated enough to combat their addiction. Drug courts ensure that offenders are supervised closely and kept in treatment for at least a year. The following are typical tactics used:

  • Sanctions for breaking rules and rewards for living up to your obligations
  • Obligations set to family, court, society and yourself
  • Services and intensive treatment needed to get clean and sober
  • Random and regular tests for use
  • Frequent court appearances for progress review by a judge

Drug courts are in place to break the cycle of crime and drugs and help the many people who find themselves unable to break this terrible pattern.

What's the connection between treatment and reduced crime?

If you are released from jail but have not identified the genetic, developmental or environmental elements needed to overcome a drug addiction, it is likely that you will end up right back where you started. Drug treatment courts give offenders an opportunity to identify triggers, develop solid coping habits and change friends to live a successful life, and ultimately save the taxpayers money.

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