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Drug Possession Conviction Programs

There’s no question that drugs and crime go hand in hand. According to a 2004 Bureau of Justice study, 32 percent of inmates in state prisons and 26 percent of inmates in federal prisons said they were under the influence of drugs when they committed their crime. Out of the inmates who were convicted of drug possession, 75 percent reported that they had a problem with substance abuse or were dependent on drugs.

Looking at these statistics may make you wonder whether first-time offenders are getting the help they need to get out of the criminal justice system and lead productive, healthy lives. First-time offenders who are convicted of simple drug possession may qualify for federal, state or county programs that allow them to get help for substance abuse instead of being incarcerated. If you or someone you love has been convicted of possession, there’s hope for recovery in a drug diversion program.

Where Does Drug Treatment Fit in the Court System?

The first drug court was established in Florida in 1989 in an effort to make addiction treatment part of the state’s criminal justice system, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. The goal of this alternative court was to give drug offenders the opportunity to recover from substance abuse or dependence while remaining under the court’s supervision. Florida’s program proved successful, and as of 2009, the number of drug courts in the US had grown to 1,600.

Drug courts reflect a societal trend that focuses on treatment rather than incarceration as an answer to drug use and drug-related crime. Drug offenders benefit from diversion by getting the help they need to beat addiction and rebuild their lives, while the community benefits through a reduced rate of drug abuse and crime. Offenders who have a physical or psychological dependence on cocaine, meth, heroin or marijuana have the chance to start over instead of being funneled straight into the prison system.

A diversion program isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. Once a court has accepted the treatment plan arranged by your lawyer or case manager, you have to stick to the terms of the plan in order to avoid sanctions. A treatment plan may include:

  • Regular drug screening
  • Meetings with a case worker and/or probation officer
  • Outpatient or inpatient drug rehabilitation
  • Counseling for you and your family
  • Group therapy with other offenders
  • Re-entry services like drug education or vocational training

Completing drug rehab doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never use again. After you complete the program, you’ll need to continue counseling and group therapy in order to avoid a relapse. Drug rehab programs teach you the coping skills you need to handle the physical and emotional triggers that make you want to use, but the bottom line is that you’ll need to do a lot of work to stay clean. The work of recovery may be the most important job you ever do.

What Type of Drug Convictions Qualify?

Not every drug conviction makes you eligible for a diversion program. Some state or county governments limit eligibility to first-time offenders who face a conviction for simple possession. California’s Penal Code 1000 created a deferred judgment program that puts criminal proceedings on hold while the defendant completes a drug rehabilitation program. If the judge decides that the defendant is eligible, proceedings may be suspended for as long as 18 months. In some cases, proceedings may be suspended for up to three years.

In order to qualify for a deferred judgment under CA Penal Code 1000, the defendant must meet the following criteria:

  • He or she must have no previous convictions related to controlled substances.
  • The offense cannot involve violence.
  • The defendant has completed a deferred judgment program within the past five years.
  • The defendant has not committed a felony within the past five years.

The criteria for a deferred entry program will vary from one state or county to another, but in most cases, the conviction must be for simple possession without the intent to distribute or sell the drugs, and there must be no violence or threat of violence involved.

*Drug Courts and Re-Arrest Rates

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has been following the success rates of drug courts since 1993, when it began to study the first alternative court in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Results of the NIJ’s recent research on US county drug courts demonstrated that:

  • Two years after a drug court was implemented in one county, the re-arrest rate for drug crimes dropped from 40 to 12 percent.
  • The re-arrest rate for felonies in another county dropped from 50 to 35 percent.
  • On average, the cost of processing a drug case through the drug court instead of the traditional county court system cost almost $1,400 less for each offender.
  • The savings to the public in terms of lower re-arrest rates and other benefits was close to $6,800 per participant.

How Do I Get Rehab Instead of Jail Time?

If you believe that you’re physically or psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol, you may be given the option to participate in a deferred entry program through a state or county drug court. But you shouldn’t wait to be offered a chance at treatment — tell your attorney, the judge or a counselor that you need and want help. You’ll present a stronger case to the judge if you demonstrate that you’re committed to getting clean.

Getting into a deferred entry program may require that you enter a guilty plea to the charge. Once you enter your plea, the court will postpone your sentence until you’ve completed a drug rehabilitation program. After you’ve made it successfully through rehab, the judge may reduce the charges against you or dismiss them altogether. If you violate the terms of the treatment plan by using drugs or committing another crime, you will be subject to sentencing for the drug offense.

In some states the court is required to dismiss the charges if you successfully finish drug rehabilitation. The terms and conditions of a diversion program vary depending on where you live and the offense that was committed. Check with a defense attorney in your state about the opportunities and requirements for drug diversion in your community.

What Happens in Drug Rehab?

There’s no cookie-cutter solution that will help every offender get clean and sober. Your lawyer, a mental health professional, a case worker or an addiction counselor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that’s appropriate for you. In developing this plan, your team will consider factors like:

  • Your criminal record (if any)
  • Your family status (whether you have children or other dependents)
  • Your history of drug use
  • Your commitment to seeking treatment
  • Your employment history
  • Your education
  • Your age

Based on these factors, you may be assigned to complete a treatment program at an outpatient facility or at a more intensive residential treatment center. Some courts require community service, vocational training, family counseling or drug education. Ultimately, it will be up to the judge to approve the plan that you and your attorney propose.

Facing a drug conviction, even a conviction for simple personal possession, is more than just a little scary. For a lot of users, that first arrest is the wakeup call that convinces them that their lives have gotten out of control. If you’ve decided that it’s time to get help or you have questions about drug rehabilitation, call us. We can provide the information you need to start turning your life around. Hope isn’t an illusion; it’s a gift that’s available to anyone who asks for help.