Pubdate: Thu, 15 May 2014
Source: South Jersey Times (NJ)
Copyright: 2014 New Jersey On-Line LLC
Author: Elizabeth Thompson


To the Editor:

The May 9 Times editorial "N.J. drug courts reclaiming lives" praises 
New Jersey's drug court program as an effective treatment paradigm 
for the disease of addiction, as well as a fiscally responsible 
alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

While drug courts are clearly preferable to incarceration, they are a 
misguided response to the fundamental problem of addiction.

First, treatment access in general is underfunded and unavailable to 
the majority of people who seek it. The notion that those who are 
addicted to drugs do not want treatment is wholly false, as evidenced 
by the fact that waiting lists for publicly funded rehabilitation 
programs are miles long. It is perverse that we are promoting a 
system in which someone must get arrested before we agree to help them.

In addition, drug courts commonly respond to users' relapses with 
sanctions such as jail time, which ironically penalizes someone for 
displaying a symptom of the disease that qualified him or her for 
drug court in the first place. This perpetuates a system in which 
those with the most serious drug problems are more likely to "fail" 
the program.

Although drug courts absolutely help many people who struggle with 
addiction, studies have shown that they are no more effective than 
treatment in the community that relies on voluntary enrollment - and 
costs even less.

New Jersey would be better off taking steps to ensure that this 
treatment is available on demand, so that people have the opportunity 
to address their substance use before they are forced into the 
criminal justice system.

Elizabeth Thompson

Policy Coordinator New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance Trenton
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