THE BEST OF: The following article, published on Feb. 13,2012, uses a Watertown sentencing as an example of how drug court can be used to keep the prison population down, or increase it.
Something caught my eye as I was reading newsclips from around the nation. A small item from the Watertown Daily Times (NY). It read:
A Watertown man was sentenced to state prison Thursday after admitting in Jefferson County Court that he violated his Drug Court contract. Paul L. Arndt Jr., 44, was sentenced to 11⁄3 to 4 years in prison for violating terms of the substance abuse rehabilitation program that is designed to serve as an alternative to incarceration. He was referred to the program in April 2009 after admitting he violated probation. He was sentenced to five years’ probation in August 2007 after pleading guilty in May 2007 to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property for taking radiators that had been stolen from a Watertown business and selling them at a Syracuse recycling center. Information about how he violated Drug Court was not available.
Putting aside the issue of whether the probation violation in question was a particularly serious or dangerous one, I would suggest that sending a drug court participant to prison for a substantial term is almost never good criminal justice policy, good use of government funds, or good rehabilitation &/or treatment strategies . There are more than a few drug courts, that quickly fail drug court participants and spirit them away for substantial prison terms. It may be time to revisit the rationality behind such scenarios. Unless the new offense is one involving violence or the threat of violence, is prison ever a sensible response to a drug court violation?
I have suggested in a recent article (see:”Front-loading court interventions”) that “judges may use their jurisdiction to sentence the felon to prison as part of a court-ordered treatment program, with the understanding that the offender is to undergo treatment before being returned to court for re-sentencing”. The idea is an old one, first described in a monograph written in 1999 by myself and present NADCP CEO West Huddleston (see “Reentry Drug Courts”); Front-loaded prison reentry programs (involving short custodial terms and a return to court supervision and treatment), are a last resort after the offender has committed serious and multiple violations of a drug court’s requirements.
Numerous states have developed drug court as an alternative sentence of last resort before substantial prison terms are ordered. Governors such as Christy of New Jersey and Deal of Georgia are calling for special drug courts to give the offender a last chance to succeed. Reentry-Drug Courts, (or simply Reentry courts) need to be put in place for the high-risk offender, where a short prison or other custodial sentence is a last resort (typically one to six months), before a long prison term is ordered.
Remember, the best way to reduce prison recidivism is not to put an offender into prison in the first place. But if there is no viable alternative to prison, use it in a rational and graduated manner, with a brief stay that holds out the promise of rehabilitation and an early return to the community.