Drug Courts and Alternative Sentencing
What IS A Drug Court?
Drug Courts, sometimes called drug treatment courts or adult recovery courts, and alternative Sentencing programs offer options not available through the traditional court system to adult and juvenile non-violent criminal defendants who also have alcohol or drug addiction issues. Rather than going through the adversarial court system where a prosecutor tries to prove a crime occurred and impose a punishment, drug courts focus on alternative sentencing, including addiction treatment, in an attempt to reduce future crimes and help the defendant remain a productive member of society.
The primary goal of drug courts is to provide treatment and opportunities to criminal offenders with addiction issues as a method of crime reduction. These alternative sentencing programs require great commitment from multiple government and community agencies including judges, law enforcement officers, drug treatment facilities, educators, attorneys, the department of child welfare, the department of social services and more.
Southern Maryland is a leader in alternative sentencing. Calvert County has both adult and teen drug court programs. Charles County has a Family Recovery Court that places special focus on providing resources to keep children in close contact, and eventually be reunited with, their parents. St. Mary’s County has an adult drug court and a unique teen court in which a jury of teenage peers decide on penalties for fellow teens.
Plain and simple–drug courts and alternative sentencing work. These programs reduce substance abuse, which in turn reduces crime, at a higher rate and with less expense, than traditional criminal penalties.
Ok, but aren’t all courts drug courts?
No. Not at all. The traditional judicial system is based on penal code–essentially finding a punishment that fits a crime. These punishments often include jail time, fines and probation. Sometimes, these sentences work. The problem is, when a person is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction they are motivated by the addiction–not swayed by potential punishments. Drug courts and alternative sentencing go to the heart of the matter–the addiction–and then provide resources and opportunities for people to rebuild their lives in the hopes that they have no motivation to commit future crimes.
The drug court process is quite different from traditional courts. The ball gets rolling with a referral, which can come from a judge, the State’s Attorneys’ office, a public defender, department of juvenile services, or even the school system. Following a referral, a committee made of members from agencies that provide treatment and offer community services meets to review the applicant. The screening process is selective–there is currently about a 50% acceptance rate due to funding constraints.
Once a person is accepted into a drug court program for alternative sentencing, the real work begins. The committee, made up of a cross-section of community members, meets to discuss an appropriate set of goals and determine which agencies are necessary to provide proper treatment for each individual seeking an alternative sentence. This process is collaborative; there is time for the defendant’s attorney to advocate for their client’s needs. The sentence is then presented to the judge or master that oversees the drug court, and a plan is put in place.
Alternative sentences are not easy sentences. Far from it. The majority of these programs require hard work, often spanning a year or more. There is usually a community service element–our local Farming for Hunger program is largely staffed by people completing their sentences. Addiction treatment is a must, as are frequent drug tests, recovery support meetings, and appearances before a judge. Participants are expected to attend life skills classes aimed at preparing offenders to make great contributions to society. The classes teach skills that enable participants to obtain jobs and stable housing. When necessary, mental health counseling and parenting courses are included as part of a sentence. For a first time offender, alternative sentences give a person the chance to accept responsibility and get their lives back on track before they turn into a hardened criminal. Repeat offenders are offered the chance to break the cycle that leads to a revolving door of jail time and crime.
Sanctions for failing to meet the terms of an alternative sentence can range from a judge’s warning to being sent back to traditional court for a prison sentence. Alternative sentencing is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card; instead these programs divert non-violent criminals out of the overburdened traditional court system and into a compassionate treatment program that gets to the root of the criminal behavior in the most cost-effective and beneficial manner to eliminate the need for expensive punishments.
Why do you need an attorney for Drug Courts and Alternative Sentencing programs?
With anything in life there are tradeoffs. In most cases you will need to admit that you are guilty of charges pending against you to enter into an alternative sentencing program. You are choosing to give up your right to fight your case in exchange for a less damaging sentence.
You should never enter into such an arrangement without first discussing the merits of your case with an attorney. A Ferrante & Dill, LLC lawyer can analyze the facts of your case, advise you of potential penalties should you choose to go through the traditional court system, and help you evaluate whether you are interested and capable of completing all the alternative sentencing requirements. Remember, if you fail to complete the program, you may face harsh punishment.
If you decide drug court is the right route for you, an attorney is a vital part of your team throughout the entire process. Our attorneys can assist in getting you qualified for a drug court program, advocate for the services that will meet your needs, explain all of the terms of your sentence, and help you prepare and submit all of the necessary paperwork. Additionally, your attorney will stand up with you at each of your court appearances throughout the sentence.
Drug courts and alternative sentencing programs are not an easy way to avoid jail time; but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort they offer an opportunity to have a real chance at starting fresh with a productive life. Let the attorneys at Ferrante & Dill, LLC guide you through the process. Contact us today at 410.535-6100.