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Drug court

People who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction are more likely to get in trouble with the law, but incarceration rarely addresses the underlying issues. With their addictions untreated, they are very likely to reoffend. The establishment of treatment courts was aimed at combating this vicious cycle, and statistics show that they have been effective. They work to keep people dealing with substance abuse out of the justice system and help them toward recovery and stability.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, there are currently over 3,000 treatment courts operating in the U.S., with 144,000 individuals being served. These courts help cut crime, as 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free compared to only 30 percent released from prison. Adult drug courts reduce recidivism by as much as 45 percent while juvenile drug courts reduce recidivism by as much as 40 percent. Veterans' treatment courts are serving more than 13,000 veterans nationwide. It also saves money when you send someone to drug court instead of prison — up to $13,000 per participant.

The Auburn Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court was established in 2003 and is a court-supervised treatment program for people with substance abuse problems who face non-violent charges. Potential participants are usually referred through the district attorney's office and may be recommended by their defense attorney or probation officer. A person who is referred to this court is required to participate in a program, at least a year long, that includes drug/alcohol treatment, close supervision, regular reporting to the court and random urinalysis screens to ensure that they are not using substances. Participants are assisted by a team of professionals from the areas of social services, mental health, drug treatment, law enforcement, probation, district and defense attorneys and the presiding judge. Upon graduation, participants have to demonstrate that they are no longer using substances, have gainful employment and/or are pursuing an educational program.

During my early recovery, I had the opportunity to volunteer and, later as a paid staff member, work for the state's Unified Court System at the Auburn misdemeanor and felony drug court. As a certified urinalysis drug screener, I performed drug testing, assisted clients and made them aware of the various support groups in our community. The drug court experience was a tremendous asset to my recovery and lead me to become a certified recovery peer advocate, which allows me to help others in early recovery.

Treatment court offers a life-changing alternative to incarceration for offenders. While they are held accountable for their actions, this program offers an option for offenders to turn their lives around, become drug-free and return to a healthy, productive lifestyle. Most drug courts use programs designed to curb criminal recidivism and encourage defendants toward full recovery to stay away from the behavior and activities that landed them in the justice system. Programs include risk and needs assessment, monitoring and drug rehab. Treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions is also part of many drug court programs. The takeway is that treatment courts save lives, cut crime and save money.

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Timothy Donovan from Auburn is a member of the Cayuga County Drug-Free Community Coalition, the Cayuga County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Sub-Committee, and Alcoholics Anonymous. For more information, he can be reached at