Alternatives to sentencing for offenders facing drug charges

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2019 | Firm News

The legal system is now realizing that declaring a “war on drugs” has not been effective in reducing addiction in the United States. What has helped, though, is a system where people facing drug charges may be able to receive treatment rather than jail time.

According to the National Institute of Justice, participating in drug court significantly reduces a person’s chances of re-arrest.

Drug court options in Madison

In Madison, the Dane County Circuit Court operates three Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction programs that vary based on the needs of the defendant:

  • Drug Court Treatment Program – Defendants are at high risk for re-arrest.
  • Drug Court Diversion Program – Defendants are at medium risk for re-arrest.
  • Deferred Prosecution Unit – Defendants are first offenders and do not meet the criteria for the other two programs.

To enter the program, a defendant must receive a referral from his or her attorney, the prosecutor, a probation agent or the judge. A defendant may also request a referral on his or her own behalf.

To be eligible for a referral, the defendant must reside in Dane County, and the drug charge must be a felony that is nonviolent and does not involve a weapon. The defendant must also be willing to enter and complete the program voluntarily.

A mental health professional conducts the screening to determine the potential participant’s level of risk and direct him or her to the appropriate addiction program.

What the programs entail

The treatment and diversion programs both involve the following:

  • Closely monitored addiction treatment
  • Random drug tests
  • Home visits
  • Verification of employment

Another important component of both programs is case management. Often, addiction is a symptom of other problems. Therefore, a case manager may meet with a participant at least once a week to identify needs and provide assistance or referrals regarding matters such as education and employment, money management, mental and physical health issues and housing.

The diversion program lasts at least nine months, and the minimum time for treatment court is one year.

The District Attorney’s Office runs the Deferred Prosecution Unit for first offenders, and each defendant must create a contract that lists the requirements he or she must complete in order to receive a dismissal or amendment of the charges. Elements of the agreement are unique to the circumstances of the defendant’s charges.