Drug Rehab Treatment in Lieu of Jail Does Not Always Work
States across the US are faced with a problem – there are not enough resources to incarcerate all those who have been sentenced to jail. When faced with overcrowding, officials must try to determine which criminals are the least dangerous to society so that they can be released to make room for others. At the same time, both the medical and judicial communities are discovering that crime arising from drug and alcohol addiction would be reduced or eliminated if the addiction were treated.
In an effort to address both overcrowding and effective addiction treatment, drug diversion programs have sprung up across the United States. These programs offer some criminals the option of attending residential drug rehab or outpatient drug rehab instead of jail. Some programs dismiss charges upon successful completion; others only eliminate or reduce sentences. One question that arises in drug diversion, however, is how many chances an individual should get before drug rehab is no longer an option.
Over the course of twenty-five years, Mark Burns was convicted thirty-three times for various crimes, including petty theft and armed robbery. In 2004, Maryland prosecutors obtained a conviction for 1st degree burglary and, along with it, a sentence of fifteen years in prison. It was Burns’s toughest sentence yet and, by all accounts, the circumstances surrounding the crime warranted the harsh treatment. In fact, during questioning, Burns indicated a desire to seek retribution against the officers who had arrested him.
However, fewer than five years after, prosecutors were back in court trying to convince a judge to put Burns back in jail. Burns had been freed the year before by a circuit court judge who reduced his sentence and ordered him into a residential drug rehab treatment program. The judge made this decision despite the fact that probation officials found the chance of recovery to be very low and the danger he posted to society to be relatively high. Burns failed to complete the program and left the facility after just thirty days, only to be apprehended again on a probation violation.
It turns out that in recent years Burns is not the only one who has failed to complete his court-ordered drug rehab treatment and land himself back in court. State records show that almost 40 percent of defendants that were “sentenced” to drug rehab in 2007 failed to finish the program. It is also unknown how many people completed the program only to turn around and re-offend.
Members of the judiciary, prosecutors and judges alike, have requested that state officials study the effectiveness of such drug diversion programs. Although many do believe that participation in a drug rehab treatment program instead of going to jail could help a particular defendant break the addiction cycle and stay out of jail, they question whether the risk of release is worth it for hard-core criminals. Instead, it may be more effective and safe to spend the resources on first-time or second-time offenders only.
Prosecutors in Maryland complain that judges are too willing to let convicted criminals out of jail early to participate in drug rehab treatment programs. Although treatment is something that should be offered to addicts, many judges fail to fully contemplate whether a particular defendant should finish his sentence first before being sent to treatment. Others defend the practice, arguing that even a slight chance of success is worth the risk of letting these criminals out of jail.