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The system of drug courts is an alternative to traditional criminal justice prosecution for drug and substance abuse related crimes. Although the institute of drug courts is a comparatively new phenomenon in judiciary practices - first such courts were established in the United States in the late 1980s - drug courts have already won public recognition as an effective tool to fight the most intensively growing segment of crimes.
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Download file "Paper on Drug Courts" to see previous pages... However, effectiveness of this decision in fighting the growing crime rates left much to be desired. Prison overcrowding and abnormal growth of expenditures needed to enforce the new legislation were the most noticeable outcomes of the attempts to fight drug crimes within the framework of existing criminal system (USDJ,
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1995). Drug courts were taken up as an alternative to resolve the problem of growing drug-related crime rates and decrease the expenditures to acceptable level.
Although opinions on what constitutes a drug court may vary, the most typical definition of drug courts describes them as: "Courts specifically designated to administer cases referred for judicially supervised drug treatment and rehabilitation within a jurisdiction or court-enforced drug treatment program." (Inciardi, 1996: 25). The history of drug courts goes back to 1989 when the first drug court was established in the Dade County (Miami, FL). Since those days, drug courts have established a substantial presence in the criminal court system of the U.S.
While the criminal court systems is concerned with law enforcement based primarily upon penalties, drug courts represent the coordinated efforts of several institutions. The prosecution, defense bar, law enforcement, judiciary, probation, mental health, social and nursing institutions join together in the drug court to fight the cycle of drug-related crime and substance abuse. High effectiveness of drug courts in fighting this segment of crimes is due to a specific approach that differs from the one implemented by criminal courts.
The U.S. drug courts do not stick to the same model. Some of them simply facilitate and foster the process of shuffling offenders through the traditional criminal justice system; others pay more attention to rehabilitation, treatment and long-term monitoring of individuals. The key elements that define efficiency of a drug court are partnership and intensive cooperation of multiple agencies and institutions, early actions to prevent re-offending, education, close monitoring of the offenders, consistent and on-going judicial involvement and effective assessment/evaluation procedures in place (DCSC, 1997). Drug courts featuring all of these components are the most effective and vice versa.
Philosophy of the drug court system implies that appropriate treatment and education is more effective tool to fight drug-related crimes than penalties and punishment. Therefore, offenders whose cases are brought to the drug court undergo an intensive course of substance abuse and psychological treatment. Frequent drug testing and probation supervision coupled with close judicial monitoring carried out by a judge with deep knowledge of drug-related issues reinforces the treatment results. Besides, some drug courts utilize additional techniques - such as family counseling or job skill training - to make this reinforcement even more effective (Fox and Huddleston, 2003). Drug court is the best instrument within the criminal justice system to shorten the period between arrest of the offender and beginning of his treatment and ensure the appropriate structure to evaluate whether the treatment long enough to achieve the targeted outcomes or no.
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