08/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"All Rise!": A Better Way of Justice Is Now In Session

Walk into any courtroom in America and you will hear two words that bring everyone to attention. As the judge takes the bench and the court officer loudly proclaims, "all rise," the courtroom quiets down and all stand focused on our system of justice.

But this command -- "all rise" -- carries with it an implicit and solemn promise: the promise that our judicial system will raise the quality of life for the people coming before it and for our community. For the many addicted individuals who appear before the courts each year, this includes the promise that they will receive the treatment and other tools they need to change their lives. Because we know that whenever one person rises out of addiction and crime, we all rise as a community. When the intergenerational cycle of drug addiction in a family is broken and healing begins, we all rise. When a child is reunited with clean and sober parents, we all rise. Whether the charge is driving while impaired, theft, burglary or any number of other addiction-driven offenses, we all rise when a Drug Court guides the offender past the chaos and wreckage and toward recovery.

This is precisely the business underway in 2,301 Drug Courts throughout this country. Drug Courts keep drug-addicted individuals in treatment long enough to get well, while supervising them closely. Participants receive the intensive treatment and other services they need to change their lives, all the while being held accountable by a judge for meeting their obligations to society, their families and themselves. They are regularly and randomly tested for drug use, frequently appear in court before a judge who reviews their progress, and are rewarded for doing well and sanctioned for not living up to their obligations. For these individuals, over a million and counting, Drug Court is the passport to a new life.

And Drug Courts have been proven to be effective beyond a reasonable doubt; far more effective, in fact, than any other criminal justice program. And yet over one-half of U.S. counties do not have a Drug Court, and the Drug Courts that do exist only have the capacity to serve about 10% of the 1.2 million adult offenders who are estimated to be in need. Drug Courts remain constrained by the more popular (but erroneous) thinking that alcoholics or addicts can be punished out of their dependence. It is time to abandon "conventional" views that prison is the solution to addiction, and consider what the research says.

Drug Courts Work

Drug Courts significantly reduce drug abuse and crime and do so at less expense than any other justice strategy. It is now 20 years since the first Drug Court was founded and there has been more research published on the effects of Drug Courts than on virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. Many medications have less scientific evidence supporting their safety and benefit to the public.

Nationwide, 70% of those who enter Drug Court complete it a year later and 75% of them remain arrest-free. On the other hand, the re-arrest rates for drug abusers after release from prison exceed 60% to 80%, and 95% return to drug abuse. A Drug Court participant is over twice as likely to stay drug-free and arrest-free as a newly released state inmate. Research also concludes that Drug Courts reduce drug abuse and improve employment and family functioning. These effects are not short-lived. The longest study on Drug Court, to date, shows these positive outcomes last as much as 14 years!

Drug Courts also save considerable money for taxpayers. The most conservative estimates show that for every $1.00 invested in Drug Court, $3.36 is saved by the justice system and up to $12.00 (per $1 investment) is saved by the community at-large as a result of fewer emergency room and other medical care visits, fewer foster care placements for displaced children, and less property losses to crime victims.

All Rise

It is our hope that drug-addicted citizens should not need to be arrested to receive the help they require. But for the 1.2 million drug-addicted arrestees currently involved in the adult criminal justice system, Drug Court is the solution and the passport to a new way of life.

To make Drug Court available to every American in need, NADCP has just launched to provide extensive information on Drug Courts and promote the All Rise concept.

Check out our new PSA... then get involved. All Rise!