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Drug Diversion and Rehab

Drug addiction and criminal behavior often go hand in hand. When you look at the personal histories of many lifelong addicts, you’ll often see that these patterns begin in childhood or even in infancy. Children who grow up in an environment that exposes them to illicit drugs are at a higher risk for developing an addiction and committing crimes like drug dealing, burglary and assault. Drug courts and diversion programs give kids and adults a chance to deal with drug problems and learn lifelong coping skills before they become part of the criminal justice system.

Why Drug Courts Are Important

Drug courts may be one of the most successful criminal justice initiatives of the 20th century, wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph P. Albright. According to Albright, these programs have “repaired and even saved thousands of lives” and have “created hope for the hopeless.” The first drug courts were established in the 1980s in response to a nationwide increase in drug-related crime in the US.

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The early drug courts simply focused on speeding up drug case processing in order to relieve an overloaded criminal justice system. But as these programs evolved, drug courts began to use therapeutic principles to help substance abusers recover from addiction and get out of the jails, courts and prisons altogether. Today, drug courts can divert chemically dependent juveniles or adults out of the mainstream criminal justice system.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDC) notes that juvenile drug courts have five key goals:

  1. To provide immediate intervention and treatment for kids who are at risk of drug addiction
  2. To help kids function more effectively in their social environment
  3. To give youths the coping tools they need to lead lives that are free from substance abuse and crime
  4. To build stronger family relationships among youths who are involved with drugs
  5. To promote accountability among juvenile drug users and those who are responsible for their care

Supporters of diversion programs say that going through a drug court helps juveniles avoid the social stigma of the mainstream criminal courts. Getting back into the real world after going through drug rehab may be easier than reintegrating into the community after serving time in a juvenile detention center.

DDAP: A Diversion Success Story

The Detention Diversion Advocacy Program (DDAP) of San Francisco, California has been helping kids stay out of the criminal justice system since the early 1990s. DDAP’s case workers serve as mentors to their young clients, providing an example of clean, sober living under tough circumstances. Many of these case workers come from the same social background as their clients, which gives them unique insight into the risks and challenges that juvenile offenders face.

Juveniles can be referred to DDAP not only by defense attorneys and courts, but by parents and service providers in the community. After an initial screening, DDAP develops an individualized case plan and presents the plan to a court for approval. The case plan includes a description of the terms and conditions of the agreement, including treatment to be received and programs to be completed in exchange for being released from criminal custody. DDAP estimates that at least 80 percent of its case plans are accepted by the court system.

Why DDAP Succeeds

Founded in San Francisco in 1993, the Detention Diversion Advocacy Program (DDAP) serves as a model of how drug court diversion and rehab programs can succeed. The OJJDP points to the following reasons for DDAP’s success:

  • The program is located outside of the juvenile justice system.
  • The program is easily accessible to young offenders and their families.
  • Caseworkers have smaller than average caseloads (never more than 12 clients).
  • Intensive supervision of participants helps caseworkers identify potential problems early.

How Diversion Works

Drug diversion identifies at-risk juveniles or adults before they enter the criminal justice system, so they can get the support they need to recover from chemical dependence in a setting that’s devoted to addiction treatment. Although participants are given a chance to avoid juvenile detention centers or prisons, they are still held accountable for their behavior and expected to complete the program as directed by the court.

The specifics of drug diversion programs vary from one locality to another.

Programs may differ in several ways, notes the OJJDP:

  • Offenders may be referred for diversion by law enforcement agents before they’re arrested, during the court intake or before they’re sentenced.
  • Diversion programs may encompass drug courts, substance abuse treatment programs, teen courts or mental health courts.
  • Supplemental programs may include parent training, underage drinking prevention, mentoring programs, family therapy and other opportunities for education and enrichment.

Drug court diversion is a compassionate alternative to juvenile court for young offenders who are just getting started in life. Instead of being channeled from a detention center to jail to prison, these youths are given an opportunity to lead lives that are free from illicit drugs and crime. Practical coping strategies help kids from broken homes learn how to handle the responsibilities of the adult world. Teenagers who grew up in a world of instability, violence and fear are introduced to positive adult role models and taken to safe, healthy places — often for the first time.

The Evolution of Diversion Programs

Drug court diversion programs weren’t always as successful as they are today. In the 1970s, studies found that youths who participated in these programs were no less likely to go back to using, and that diversion may have actually increased the rate of relapse. However, studies done after 1999 showed more positive results. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), recent research shows that diverted youths are:

  • Less likely than their non-diverted peers to go back to court for a new offense
  • Less likely to be referred for out-of-home placement
  • Less likely to go before a judge for adjudication
  • Less likely to have a court petition filed for two years after the end of the program

What Happens After Drug Rehab?

luxury-shutter355865993-teen-addictFor juveniles and adults who’ve been through drug court, getting help for an addiction is only the beginning. Recovery is never easy, no matter how much support you have from the legal system. Staying clean and sober in an environment characterized by poverty, crime and domestic violence can be a daily or even an hourly struggle. Providing support after reentry into the community is critical to the success of a drug diversion program.

The OJJDP estimates that each year, approximately 100,000 juveniles face the challenging of reentering their community after being placed in an out-of-home treatment program. Juveniles in drug court diversion programs are taught reintegration skills that can help them stay clean and sober after they complete their therapy. Aftercare programs, family therapy and vocational training help kids establish positive, productive roles in their communities.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that the risk of relapse is high among offenders who return to the community. Kids who go back to their old lives may immediately run into dealers and former friends who want to lure them back to their old behaviors. While family counseling may improve a child’s relationship with their parents or guardians, home life can still be extremely stressful. Pressures to do better at school or find a job can add to the stress of reintegration.

In order to succeed in the “real world,” kids must have supervision and immediate intervention if they show signs of going back to drugs or crime. Day treatment facilities and reporting centers offer a step-down approach to rehab by providing supervision and monitoring in a less structured setting. The best diversion programs look out for their young clients from the time they’re referred to the program until they’re ready to return to the community.

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