Drug courts offer an alternative to incarceration, which, by itself, has not been effective in breaking the cycle of drugs and crime. Treatment has been shown to work—if substance abusers stick with it; however, between 80 and 90 percent of conventional drug treatment clients drop out before 12 months of treatment, the period found to be the most effective. Drug Courts provide a structure that links supervision and treatment, and exert legal pressure on offenders to enter and remain in treatment long enough to realize benefits.
More than two-thirds of participants who begin treatment through a drug court complete it in a year or more—a sixfold increase in treatment retention compared with programs outside the justice system. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, involuntary treatment is effective. Of the thousands of offenders who have participated in Drug Courts throughout the country since 1989, it is fair to say that most would not have entered treatment by choice. Drug courts have coerced an impressive number of substance-involved offenders—many of whom have co-occurring mental, emotional, and physical health problems—to receive treatment, counseling, and other services that they need to lead productive and law-abiding lives.
In Utah County, the Felony Drug Court program has been operating Since 1998, and serves about 72 clients at any given time. For some clients, Drug Court is operated on a plea in abeyance model where clients plead guilty to a drug related felony charge or probation violation, and their plea is held in abeyance until they complete the program and graduate. If they do not complete the program, they are convicted and sentenced. For other clients, usually those who have an extensive criminal history, Drug Court is operated on post-conviction model, where clients do not enter Drug Court until after a guilty plea and Drug Court is part of the sentence, the last chance before prison.
To be admitted to Drug Court an offender must:
1. Have a drug related felony charge or be on felony probation for a drug related charge.
2. Be a Utah County resident.
3. Have no history of violent offenses.
4. Have no more than $1000.00 owing in restitution and must pay off restitution during drug court.
5. Have no charges relating to drug distribution.
6. Have not been to prison previously.
Also, if there is a crime victim, the victim must be in agreement with the offender entering into drug court. The program is designed to be 12 months in length; however, some clients have taken up to 18 months to graduate.
Graduation criteria include completion of treatment and no positive drug tests during the final six months of the program. The program encourages and helps participants obtain employment and schooling, improve their day-to-day choices of friends and living circumstances, and become productive members of our community. The incentive for some participants is that upon successful completion of Drug Court their felony charge does not ap-pear on their record. For participants already convicted of a felony, the incentive for successful completion of Drug Court is they avoid a prison sentence.
Participants must pay Drug Court fees, which include the costs of regular, random drug testing, but most funding for Drug Court comes from federal, state, and county funds, and a drug court grant provided by the Utah State Department of Human Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.