I find it remarkable that drug court programs have taken off so quickly in the past few years and been embraced so enthusiastically by judges and prosecutors. What's more, the "stronger probation" techniques used to manage drug court offenders offer an important model for successfully managing other types offenders in the community.
Drug courts — intensive probation programs that focus on nonviolent offenders with addiction problems — have been in existence around the country for two decades and in Bexar County since 2001, said County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Al Alonso. In that time, he said, the programs have proved to be more effective than any other way of dealing with offenders.
“It changes lives, saves money and reduces crime,” he said. “We've got to get off the mindset that we can punish someone out of their addiction.”
Many parts of the drug court approach (e.g., using progressive sanctions for violators instead of automatically revoking them to prison) are replicable in more traditional courts or can be applied to other common subsets of defendants with specialized needs. For example, in El Paso County, CO (Colorado Springs) they've established a specialty court to provide stronger probation for returning veterans who run afoul of the law, recognizing that these defendants face particularized circumstances that weren't being addressed by the court system.
At the end of the day, such tailored approaches improve public safety by focusing on helping offenders succeed on probation instead of encouraging them to fail. True, many defendants assigned to such specialty courts don't make it; but for those who do drug courts reduce costs for taxpayers and increase the likelihood they won't commit more crimes in the future.