New Report Finds “Drug Courts Are Not the Answer”

Press Release March 21, 2011
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at 213-291-4190</p>

Washington, D.C. – At two briefings on Capitol Hill today, the Drug Policy Alliance released a groundbreaking new report, Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use, which finds that drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety; leave many people worse off for trying; and have actually made the criminal justice system more punitive toward addiction – not less.

"The drug court phenomenon is, in large part, a case of good intensions being mistaken for a good idea," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, who contributed to the report. "Drug courts have helped many people, but they have also failed many others, focused resources on people who could be better treated outside the criminal justice system and in some cases even led to increased incarceration. As long as they focus on people whose only crime is their health condition, drug courts will be part of the problem – not the solution – created by drug war policies."

"Even if drug courts were able to take in all 1.4 million people arrested for just drug possession each year, over 500,000 to 1 million people would be kicked out and sentenced conventionally," Dooley-Sammuli added.

"Far from being a cure for the systemic problems of mass drug arrests and incarceration, drug courts are not even a stopgap," said Daniel Abrahamson, Drug Policy Alliance's Director of Legal Affairs, who also contributed to the report. "Drug courts have actually helped to increase, not decrease, the criminal justice entanglement of people who struggle with drugs and have failed to provide quality treatment. Only sentencing reform and expanded investment in health approaches to drug use will stem the flow of drug arrests and incarceration. The feel-good nature of drug courts hasn't translated into results. U.S. drug policy must be based not on good intentions, but on robust, reliable research."

The Justice Policy Institute today also released its own independent report on drug courts, Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities, which finds that providing people with alternatives like community-based treatment are more cost-effective and provide greater public safety benefits than treatment that comes with the collateral consequences associated with involvement in the criminal justice system. For more information on this JPI report, contact Jason Fenster at 202.558.7974 x 306 or [email protected].

An audio recording of a March 21 press teleconference on both reports is available online here.

Key Findings of DPA's Drug Courts Are Not the Answer:

Drug Courts Have Not Demonstrated Cost Savings, Reduced Incarceration, or Improved Public Safety

Drug Courts Leave Many People Worse Off for Trying

Drug Courts Are More Punitive Toward Addiction – Not Less

Key Recommendations of DPA's Drug Courts Are Not the Answer:

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.