Volume 1: overview and survey results

Drug dependence is a chronic relapsing disorder that must be addressed and treated as a public health matter, on a par with the treatment of other chronic diseases. Because drug abuse is compulsive, it does not stop at the prison door.

Treatment alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders involve diverting substance-abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision. By increasing direct supervision of offenders, coordinating public resources, and expediting case processing, treatment alternatives to incarceration can help break the cycle of criminal behavior, alcohol and drug use, and imprisonment.

At a number of recent seminars organised by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Secretariat for Multidimensional Security of the Organization of American States, judges, prosecutors and health care personnel from Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe examined the feasibility of establishing treatment alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders, one form of which are drug courts.

Some of the CICAD countries expressed great interest in setting up such programmes, although civil law countries pointed to some difficulties they might face in working such alternatives into their penal codes and procedures. Countries where drug courts are already up and running spoke of how they had overcome obstacles and public skepticism, and stressed the need for good evaluations and research on the outcomes of drug treatment court programmes in order to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Through its programme of City Partnerships on the Improvement of Drug Treatment, CICAD has helped the courts of Suriname and the State of Nuevo León, Mexico, to set up new drug treatment courts, and continues to support the work of drug courts in Chile, Jamaica and other interested countries and cities. Belgium, where a new drug treatment court pilot has been created, has taken a collaborative approach, involving city officials and universities in the process. CICAD’s exchange of good practices in recent years allowed countries where drug treatment courts are in place to share different approaches to drug court challenges.