Twenty years ago, along with other drug court pioneers, I helped build a national reform movement that today claims over twenty-five hundred drug and other problem-solving courts. And while I am truely proud of our successes, the truth is that the criminal justice system remains overly-cautious, limiting drug courts to the less severe drug abuser and/or the less serious criminal, reaching perhaps only 5% of drug offenders. This makes little sense as drug court’s scientifically proven effectiveness lies with the high-risk non-violent substance abusers who make up more than 50% of prisoners (Marlowe).
We live in a country plainly addicted to prison; with the highest imprisonment rate in the world, a prison population that has increased 700% since 1970, over 75% imprisoned for non-violent offenses, and 50% returned to prison within three years of release. It’s not that prison isn’t necessary , but that we’ve become habituated to its use, whether appropriate or not . We are just coming out of the addict’s denial phase, and beginning to accept the fact that our overdependence on prison has catastropic social and financial consequences. But as with all recovering addicts, there is reason to hope for a better future . The reentry court is clearly not the whole answer to our prison addiction (for example, it will also take dedicated partners in a host of rehabilitation services), but as the evolutionary next-generation drug court, there is excellent reason to believe reentry court will be part of the solution. [see Policy Papers, for a full exposition]