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SAMHSA News - March/April, Volume 14, Number 2

From the Administrator: Drug Courts Yield Benefits

Breaking the cycle of addiction leading to crime, followed by incarceration, then release, relapse, and recidivism is a priority that requires our attention. The goals of improving public health and public safety are inextricably intertwined, so that improvement in one enhances progress in the other.

When prevention, early intervention, treatment, and recovery support services are targeted to adult and juvenile offenders, the benefits are threefold.

First, if we prevent addiction, drug-related crime will decrease. Second, if we intervene early and get the appropriate treatment services in place, recidivism rates drop. Third, when SAMHSA increases recovery support services, reentry success rates climb and public safety is increased.

This issue of SAMHSA News highlights treatment drug courts, a model of intervention that has successfully overcome many of the systemic challenges that have traditionally impeded a unified approach by the treatment and criminal justice systems.

Treatment drug courts, started in the late 1980s, have changed the adversarial nature of the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, and the judge in traditional court proceedings to a team approach. All parties are united in finding a way to meet public safety needs while addressing the treatment and recovery needs of the substance-using individual.

Also, treatment drug courts shift the focus of care from episodes of acute symptoms toward the management of long-term recovery, and engage the individual as a partner in his or her own recovery and rehabilitation.

Successful recovery not only includes decreased drug use or decreased involvement with the criminal justice system, but also reflects incremental changes in other areas. SAMHSA's recently launched National Outcome Measures initiative asks treatment programs to evaluate effectiveness by also measuring increased employment or school enrollment, enhanced family stability or stability in living situation, improved retention, and better self-management ability.

The criminal justice system offers numerous opportunities for intervention for people with substance and mental health disorders. To the greatest extent possible, all points of the criminal justice system should have access to the information, staff, and techniques to assess the type and intensity of services needed and identify the appropriate level of intervention that will align with criminal justice requirements.

By combining efforts through partnership and collaboration, the treatment system and the criminal justice system can increase exponentially the chance for both individual recovery and community well-being.

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