It is widely believed that the criminal justice system should rehabilitate rather than punish individuals who commit nonviolent offenses, which is why diversion programs designed to treat addiction have been put into place even in states where offenders convicted of violating drug laws can be sent to prison for decades. Lawmakers in Texas took this approach in 2001 when they passed House Bill 1287, which required counties with populations of more than 550,000 to establish drug courts. The legislation was passed to lower recidivism rates, reduce prison populations and ease the burden on taxpayers.
Nonviolent offenders are referred to drug courts when officials tasked with assessing their cases determine that they would benefit from a diversion program. Individuals who enter drug court programs are monitored closely for up to 18 months. During this time, offenders meet with community supervision officers on a weekly basis, take regular drug tests and attend substance abuse treatment sessions. Drug courts are usually a form of pretrial diversion, but some counties also use them as an alternative to revocation and incarceration for offenders who violate the conditions of their supervised release.
Studies suggest that diversionary programs are effective at reducing recidivism rates. In 2002, researchers from the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition discovered that offenders who completed drug court programs had a recidivism rate of just 3.4%. The recidivism rate for offenders who did not participate in drug court programs was 26.6%. It costs about $163,000 per year to run a drug court. This cost is met by federal assistance, state appropriations, local funds, and the fees paid by participants.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may cite the results of studies like the one conducted by the CJPC during plea negotiations when their clients are charged with nonviolent offenses that were allegedly committed to obtaining the money to buy drugs or while under the influence of controlled substances. When their clients do not suffer from substance abuse problems but pose no threat to society, attorneys could urge prosecutors to consider alternatives to incarceration like probation or community service.