Pubdate: Thu, 28 Sep 2000
Source: Athens Daily News (GA)
Copyright: 2000 Athens Newspapers Inc.
Address: PO Box 912, Athens, GA 30603
Fax: 706-208-2246


Local judges may soon have a new tool to help individuals addicted to drugs and alcohol and keep them from repeatedly breaking the law.

The Athens-Clarke Commission is expected to give formal approval of an $81,000 state grant from the Georgia Supreme Court that will create a DUI/Domestic Violence Drug Court in Clarke County. This judicial addition should be a tremendous benefit to the community and it has the Athens Newspapers' support.

A drug court gives judges more ways to intervene in cases where a substance abuser is facing misdemeanor criminal charges in hopes that the individual can receive help for their addiction and thus prevent future crimes. Too often, judges, police and prosecutors see an individual addicted to drugs and alcohol who is arrested and then punished for a crime only to see them reappear for a similar offense. The problem is traditional approaches don't address the root cause of crime in most of these cases -- the substance abuse.

The time frame between arrest and conviction can be anywhere from two to six months, and substance abusers often commit offenses again while waiting for their court appearance. To break the cycle, the drug court can require accused offenders to submit to a substance abuse evaluation and, if necessary, to receive immediate treatment as a condition of being released from jail on bond before their cases are heard in court.

The offender can receive intensive substance abuse counseling for as much as five days a week, and submit to random drug tests. The individual will also have weekly status conferences with the judge and substance abuse counselors. If the court finds the individual guilty for the original offense, the treatment could continue for as long as 18 months, in addition to the court-issued punishment of jail time, probation, fines or community service.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, drug court participants are less likely to commit future crimes than are other substance abusers who don't receive court intervention. The report states that an estimated 45 percent of defendants convicted of drug possession will be arrested for a similar offense within two to three years. The recidivism rate for participants in most drug courts ranges from 5 percent to 28 percent. For drug court graduates that rate is less than 4 percent.

In addition to providing better treatment for the substance abuser, the community benefits from the drug court's work. From a public safety standpoint, drug courts have been shown to reduce the likelihood that its participants will commit more crimes.

The Department of Justice report also concludes that drug courts are less expensive than traditional correctional methods. For instance, the average drug court program costs between $1,200 and $3,000 per participant, depending on how comprehensive the program is. Compared to the cost of having to hold that individual in jail, which averages about $5,000 per defendant, the drug court is cheaper and has been shown to provide more lasting results.
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