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Drug Courts and Criminal Courts Compared

Introduction

Criminal justice system is a set procedure that a certain country uses to prosecute the offenders of the country’s criminal way. The main base of a good system is to ensure that the offender is punished to the interest of the state. It is a process that ensures that there is no suspect who is convicted for an offence and had not committed one. Every suspect is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. The efficiency of any system is how well it can punish the offender; and deter future occurrence of the offence. In most countries, abuse of drugs is taken as a criminal offence. There are three folds to the case that involve the manufacturers of the drug, the vendors and the users of the drugs. As much as the case is criminal, the criminal justice is of late treating it with special to a certain level. In the United States of America, criminal justice system is wanting when compared with an “ideal system”. It does not effectively prosecute offenders nor deter an offence occurrence. There is no system that can be said to be perfect, but continuous improvement of the system is crucial for its efficiency. To continually improve the current system, there is the need to have an in depth analysis of the system so as to know the areas of weak points that needs improvements (Huddleston et al., 2008). While many systems exist and are thought to be efficient, they have at one time or another been challenged. The public, which funds all government projects and budgets, is very critical of the way the government spends its funds. Checks and balances are thus put to check on the spending and priorities of the government. In United States criminal justice, the suspects are tried in ordinary criminal courts, which emphasis on punishing the offenders. The reasoning here is that he is going to regret his actions and change his ways.

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More recently, however, there have emerged special courts which have a totally different approach to criminal justice. While a number of them exist, drug courts have become increasingly popular. They are different from criminal courts not in aim but in approach to criminal justice. Unlike the criminal courts, where punishment of the offenders and a general adversarial approach is applied to carry out the process of justice, the drug courts are more focused on the need to have the drug offenders restored to normal life (Huddleston et al., 2008). However, treating them in drug courts as they are under trial will help them to kick the habit and have a sound state of mind. With a sound mind it is expected that they will keep off crime in future days. But the problem has been to determine which of the two types of systems is better than the other.

Literature Review

Literature reviews are important for any research because they assist the researchers in placing the research topic in a clear and well-defined context. They give the in-depth analysis of the topic under study and thus drawing research questions, developing a discussion and eventually making recommendations is enhanced. Specificity is one of the main gauges of a good research because it, among other reasons, makes the research findings more authentic and so more reliable. Lack of specificity renders the entire research vague and at the risk of failing to have the power to convince users to adopt it as being reliable.

The Origin of and Need for Drug courts

Drug courts were first introduced in the US as a response to the rapid rise in drug addiction among drug offenders. This rise was significantly large between 1984 and 1990 when it is estimated that it raised from11, 854 to 29,306. The number of drug courts has risen to over 2000 in the United States. The United Kingdom has also been following this path and it is expected that it will have many more drug courts in the future as their demand soars. The drug courts in the United States are preferred over those in the United Kingdom because the US system has been in place for a longer time and is well established, the only possible impediment to the expansion is the unproved claims that it is a very costly system. Drug court programs serve as the best bet for drug abuse prevention by improving the lives of those processed through the correctional of the use of drug courts. They provide programs that have therapeutic integrity (Lessenger & Roper, 2007). This does not only improve the offenders’ life, but also protects the community as well as ensures the safety of the entire public. They advocate for rehabilitation of the addict. However, rehabilitation as an effective tool of reducing crimes related to drugs remains a critical concern (Maguire & Okada, 2010) because there are issues over the government having to assist offenders to get treatment while other people cannot even get the same. The utilitarian goal of the drug court will have to be abandoned if treatment of offenders does not work with the drug courts. Whiteacre, (2008) points out that in reviewing the existing process, in terms of how efficient it is, the use of a conceptual framework is essential.

Maguire & Okada (2010) writing in Critical Issues in Crime and Justice: Thought, Policy, and Practice are of the view that impact evaluation of a single drug court should be carried out in order to assess whether the treatment modifies the character and the behavior of the offender. The study should include measurement of the kinds of success that have been achieved by the effectiveness of the drug court programs. Since the purpose of a drug court is to divert drug offenders from facing criminal justice by providing them with an opportunity for treatment resources, they should be fulfilling this mandate effectively (Lessenger & Roper, 2007). According to Lessenger & Roper (2007), a good evaluation program should strive to ensure that the drug court specialists have the required skills pertaining to training the offenders, such as the underlying factors to the occurrences of the offence and trying to find out the root cause that makes the offenders to indulge in criminal activities, among other ways. This will make them produce positive results for the criminals even after they leave the drug court, and thus helping the offenders in the end rather than suffering.

In an attempt to reduce crime, it would be rational if the assessor examines not only the short-term benefits of the drug courts but also the long term benefits (Maguire & Okada, 2010). Careful consideration of financial benefits should be put into place as the drug courts continue to develop other sources of income. Therefore, the drug courts should not only evaluate the benefits they provide in financial terms but also look for an additional source of income for effective running of the system. A careful consideration of the current costs of the drug court program to the participating members of the criminal justice system should be put into consideration. These include the working team of the drug court; the prosecutors, public defender’s office, police, jail, and probation and treatment providers. They should also evaluate how the court resources are distributed in the drug courts by carefully identifying the cost savings associated with drug courts even when findings are unavailable at the federal government (Lessenger & Roper, 2007). In addition, the assessor should evaluate the relationship that exists between the drug court program and the rest of the court’s departments.

Butts & Roman (2004) point out that various aspects should be looked into when evaluating whether the drug courts help in assisting the drug abuser in learning of new adaptive cognitive skills. In evaluating the types of treatment methods that should be used by the drug courts in order to achieve effectiveness, one should put much emphasis on the method that appears to develop cognitive skills to the offenders. The courts should have an appropriate method to be used for all offenders in their trial, assess the pattern of the drug use, and the way it affects how the program runs. This program should be put in place to define the length of time required for successful rehabilitation to be achieved. For a successful assessment of the drug court, the evaluator also needs to review the evaluation on two aspects, that is, he/she is supposed to review the effectiveness of the program during the training time as well as after the training. He/she should then collect the data related to the study such as the treatment retention study, recidivism study, drug use study cost effective, and other rehabilitation outcome studies. This data can then be used to make the final conclusions on the overall cost of running such as drug court program.

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But back to the more specific issue of cost in terms of the length of time it takes for the trials to be completed, Granfield (1998), writing in the article An examination of the Denver Drug Court: The impact of a treatment-oriented, drug-offender system argues that it does not matter that it is a pretty long process if indeed it can be able to bring about the desired level of results. What matters is the need to have the drug offenders rehabilitated, and in the right way so that once they are off the program they can be in a better position to embark on other normal life activities and get completely weaned of their criminal life. Every individual who has been on drugs desires to leave that kind of lifestyle but somehow the addiction is too strong to break from.

According to Huddleston et al. (2008), what drug courts seek to achieve is to have these people’s lives turned around. And given that it is usually a very demanding process, it is mandatory that a lot of investment in terms of time is made until this person can be completely delivered from one’s addictions. In essence, although it might take the state a long time to have this totally finished, it is in the end very useful compared to the criminal courts. In yet another commentary, it has been argued that it is all wrong for any comparison of the two courts to be done on the basis of time taken only but rather a lot more focus has to be put on the overall outcome or efficiency of the courts (Butts & Roman, 2004). This is because of the great differences in the aims and approaches that each court follows. On the one side, the drug courts seeks to have the drug offender punished but even more importantly helps to turn around one’s life.

Research Questions

As earlier mentioned, research questions as derived from the literature being reviewed are very critical for the establishment of the various key aspects needed for the research (Marczyk, 2005). On the basis of this literature review, the following research questions will be used to guide the research:

  1. Does it take really the government a longer period of time to try drug offenders in drug courts than in criminal courts?
  2. Is the government’s continued use of drug courts for the trial of drug offenders a sustainable approach to criminal justice or is it an unnecessary burden?
  3. How can the use of drug courts be made more sustainable so that its work cannot be brought into disrepute?
  4. How does the level of recidivism among drug offenders tried in the drug courts and those tried in criminal courts compare?
  5. Are the drug courts as effective as they should be? What can be done to improve the efficiency of the drug courts?

Hypotheses

Hypothesis 1: Drug offenders ought to be rehabilitated in the drug courts because criminal courts offer the opportunity to change the offender’s lifestyle and become “normal” citizens again.

Hypothesis 2: The drug courts seek to have a reduction in the level of recidivism through behavior change, this end up saving a lot of money for the government compared with criminal courts which, although might be speedy in the criminal justice process and so appear cheaper in the short-term, incur huge expenses having to keep trying the same people over and over again.

Hypothesis 3: Drug courts greatly assist the drug abusers to learn new adaptive cognitive skills which have been proven to be critical in changing their criminal lifestyles and behavior.

Hypothesis 5: Drug courts do not cost the government more than the criminal courts both in terms of time or monetary input.

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The Evaluation Site and/or the Subjects of Study/ methodology

To be in a better position to gather the required information, we will visit various courts in the state of Colorado where we will gather information on a number of issues to ascertain some of the key issues presented in the research questions. In Colorado, the Denver Drug Court, which has been included in the literature review, will be investigated to find out how it goes about its operations as far as carrying out treatment and justice for drug offenders is concerned. Although the United Kingdom has some of the oldest criminal courts in the world, we will concentrate on US criminal courts because there is no need to bring in another variable (country). In this light, therefore, there will be a survey of three drug courts in Colorado (including the Denver Drug Court) and three criminal courts in the same state. These will be picked randomly to avoid the risk of data duplication. There will be the use of past records of expenditure incurred in a drug court; which will be compared with the records of expenditure in criminal courts. The court accounting officers in either case will be required to give the data about the various expenditures that are incurred by the court. Although it is highly likely that there is no clear record of these, efforts will be done to get them. The aim will be to assess how they have been spending on their various activities. In essence, secondary data sources, mainly audit books and statements of account, will be used. In addition, there will be interviews of some offenders who have been or are still on the drug court treatment program to find out what they have benefited or lost as measured by how they will be leading their lives at the time of the interview.

Research Design

The specific research design will entail seeking to measure the overall costs of carrying out trials in each of the courts. Then for the three courts on either side, an average cost will be calculated which includes the time investment as well as the costs of manpower, facilities, logistics, recurrent expenditure, among other key variables. For this particular evaluation, there will be both dependent and non-dependent variables (Marczyk, 2005). The dependent variables include attitude towards the drug court program, and knowledge of the information of drug use given by the providers to the offenders. The independent variables include the age, gender, and the nationality of drug offenders. There will also be quantitative and qualitative analysis because the data is both qualitative and quantitative.

The main aim is to find out the total expenditure that is input in the courts; and this will be extrapolated to cover a period of 10 years because this is the time when it is expected that at least the figures are consistent and the offenders have had time to heal. Within this time frame, it is also possible to assess the long-term benefits of the drug offenders and try to quantify them so that they can be subtracted from the expenditures. In addition to this, there will be a determination of the average time it takes for a drug court to finish up with one offender, quantify this time using a standard of one court hour being equal to 100 dollars. Then the expenditure for every personnel and other costs will added to this to ascertain the total sum of costs incurred by the court for every year up to ten years. For every year, the total costs will be added to the total revenue (or benefits) and a net value of costs will be reached. An average for the three courts will be found and taken as the cost of running the courts for the ten-year period. The same will be done for the criminal courts, and the two will be compared (Marczyk, 2005).

Population and Sample

The population sample will include all drug offenders, both children and adults of either gender. This means even juvenile criminal courts will be included. This is because drug offences among juveniles have been on the rise in the recent times.

Data Analysis

The data will be analyzed using the comparative approach. First, the totals for every type of court will be found and the difference between the two established by a simple calculation. The difference will then be expressed as a percentage, and will be used to show the relative cost of operating each type of court. Analytic induction will also be used. The data will be measured based on the hypotheses, and in the event there is no agreement, a change of the hypotheses will be carried out appropriately.

Ethical Issues

It will be difficult to convince some drug offenders to take part in the direct interviews as it will be difficult to have them answering some of the questions. There is also the problem of getting access to financial records of court personnel as this might be viewed as an attempt to convey to the public the deep secrets in the systems such as the salaries and wages of the personnel. To overcome these ethical challenges, the researchers will promise to treat all information they receive with confidence, including keeping identities of participants secret.

Timetable

  • Prepare research proposal by 15th July 2010
  • Complete literature review by 1st August 2010
  • Complete fieldwork by 30th September 2010
  • Complete analysis by 30th October 2010
  • Give presentation on 12th November 2010
  • Complete final report by 30th November 2010

Project organisation, management, schedule, and budget

The research is expected to last five months as many records will have to be perused and many calculations done. Data analysis and collection alone might take two months each. The research is projected to commence on 21st July 2010 after a three-week preliminary planning period. It is projected that the key expenditures will be on personnel allowances, travel and accommodation, data collection and analysis equipment and facilities, and rental fees.

Delimitations: We are aware that taking close analysis to more than one country’s criminal system may be of great assistance and give more input to the subject as well as offer a chance for comparison; however I choose to only concentrate on Unites States only.

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Limitations: Time constraint, the semester is so squeezed that making a comprehensive research is not possible together with other class work. The period that I will be with the organization is not good enough to give me a full analysis of the case from start to the end, and then follow the addict recover. Some of these aspects cannot be revealed by mere five months. Being an outsider may also limit what is revealed to me. I am also warned that some information that I may get may be directed by my presence and may be manipulated to fit a situation.

Reference List

Butts, J. & Roman, J. (2004). Juvenile drug courts and teen substance abuse. The Urban Institute.

Grandfield, R. (1998). ‘An examination of the Denver Drug Court: The impact of a treatment-Oriented, drug-offender system”. Law and Policy, 183-200.

Huddleston, C. et al. (2008). Painting the Current Picture: A National Report Card on Drug Courts and Other Problem-Solving Court Programs in the United States. Washington DC: National Drug Court Institute.

Lessenger, J. & Roper, G. (2007). Drug courts: a new approach to treatment and rehabilitation. Cambridge, MA: Springer Publishers

Maguire, M. & Okada, D. (2010). Critical Issues in Crime and Justice: Thought, Policy, and Practice. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE publishers

Marczyk, G. (2005). Essentials of research design and methodology. John Wiley & Sons

Whiteacre, K. (2008). Drug Court Justice: Experiences in a Juvenile Drug Court Victorville, CA: Drug Court Justice

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