Even more cost effective than drug courts has been a similar program under Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE). In this program, addicts do not receive formal treatment, but as with drug courts, they are given random drug tests where swift but modest sanctions are applied, with days or weeks in jail for each violation. HOPE has been very effective in reducing drug use even for chronic meth users.

One study found HOPE participants, compared to regular probationers, were 72% less likely to use drugs and 55% less likely to be arrested for a new crime. HOPE also accepts violent drug offenders whereas drug courts do not. It also provides formal treatment, if requested, or for offenders who repeatedly fail their drug tests. A similar program for repeat drunken drivers has been successfully adopted in South Dakota where offenders are forbidden to drink and take breathalyzer tests twice a day.

Despite their relative success compared to traditional probation programs, neither drug courts nor HOPE are perfect. Many believe that drug courts give preference to marijuana and alcohol users to the detriment of addicts for harder drugs. And given the trend of state-by-state legalization of marijuana, some consider drug courts irrelevant and a waste of resources. Critics of HOPE believe that the program is harsh, that it is too early to be certain of its success and question its replicability in other states. Therefore, more research is needed to understand how drug courts and programs like HOPE can be made more successful despite their limitations.

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Posted by Anaïs Faure