“I Need Help, Not Jail” The Benefits of Sobriety and Drug Court Systems

January 30, 2017 - In The News

Addiction Road Sign

Drug and alcohol addiction are some of the most insidious and pervasive problems someone can face in their life, and one of the costliest for many communities to cope with. Many of state and federal prisons are bursting at the seams, with a large number of the offenders there on drug-related charges. Take Oklahoma, for instance, which has a prison population that hovers around 30,000 people, with roughly 50% of them suffering from a substance abuse problem. Yet issues like substance abuse and alcoholism are not often resolved successfully by incarceration alone.

According to the National Institute of Justice, approximately two-thirds of inmates released relapse into crime within three years of being released [1]. By comparison, those who are given the alternative of going through a long-term court mandated rehabilitation program have a significantly higher chance of success. Returning to Oklahoma as an example, that state enacted a Drug Court sobriety program in 1997 that allows those facing misdemeanor charges to complete the program – which takes between 18 months to 3 years to complete – in order to have their cases dropped rather than face incarceration. If they successfully complete the program by showing that they have remained sober and are committed to staying that way, their cases are dismissed, whereas if they fail, they will serve out their jail sentences. The program has a 68-70% success rate and helps provide a long-term solution to the participants’ substance abuse problem, landing them back on their feet and better equipped to stay clean and re-enter society as productive members either seeking jobs or furthering their education.

            In addition to better resolving their addiction rather than just getting people who struggle with addiction off the streets, these programs are often much less costly than keeping someone in jail for; the estimated cost for keeping someone in jail in Oklahoma is roughly $48 per day, whereas the cost of participation in a recovery program is estimated to be $15 or less. All of these reasons provide incentive for other states to adopt or expand similar programs; a majority of drunk and drugged driving incidents are indicative of substance abuse problems, and getting the person off the street too often only solves the problem for the term of their prison sentence.


Durose, Matthew R., Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010 (pdf, 31 pages), Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, April 2014, NCJ 244205.

Image: Drugabuse.com, Addiction Road Sign, Drugabuse.com/library/treatment-programs/, accessed jan2017

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