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Treatment: The Alternative to Incarceration

By Rick Hutchinson, Esq.


Having spent many years practicing criminal law in major metropolitan areas, I have watched numerous administrations come and go. Each of them has proposed solutions to the growing problem of drug related crime. These proposals have ranged from the “War on Drugs” and “Just Say No”, to the decriminalization of marijuana. In my opinion, none of them have had much of a positive effect. I see incarceration rates continue to climb and new lives devastated in ever increasing number. As a result, I have come to believe that the solution to our nation’s drug problem lies not in legislation and incarceration, but in treatment. I consider myself fortunate to live in South Florida where we have been forced by the sheer volume of drug related cases into developing alternatives to punishment for addicts and alcoholics. In recent years, other states have adopted similar programs and the availability of alternatives to incarceration is growing nationwide.

Hundreds of times each day, in courtrooms across the country, decisions must be made between punishment and treatment. These decisions are usually based, not upon any hard and fast legal premise, but upon the available options in the jurisdiction and the general perception of the nature of addiction. Many areas of the country offer some type of diversionary program whereby first time offenders are able to have their cases dismissed if they successfully complete an accountability and treatment plan. Sentence mitigation programs are also common in both state and federal courts. In these programs, incarceration or probation may be combined with some form of treatment and/or twelve step meeting attendance, resulting in a less severe or reduced sentence.

When faced with a drug or alcohol related charge, it is important to become aware of all of the existing options. I find that one of the most effective and readily available strategies is to confront the problem head-on by seeking help from an inpatient treatment facility. Often, your attorney can then appear in court on your behalf. Ideally, it will then be explained to the judge that you have sought intensive help of your own volition. This not only reduces the burden on an already overwhelmed system, it also provides the court with options that it may not have otherwise considered. I have found that judges and prosecutors often respond favorably to a sincere effort to address the problem voluntarily.

Although our country has in the past simply relied on building more prisons, it seems that it is finally growing weary of seeing it’s children destroyed by this disease. Thankfully, there is now help and support available in the criminal justice system for those struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the options available to you and the best course of action in your particular case. Take advantage of the opportunity to get help. If you are willing to follow good counsel, the charges you are facing may come to be seen as the turning point in your life and the beginning of your recovery.


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3 Responses to “Treatment: The Alternative to Incarceration”

  1. Elizabeth T. Stephenson,M.S.S.W. says:

    Mr. Hutchinson:
    Finally, -someone who makes rational sense that merely locking up an addicted person in jail is NOT dealing with the root of the problem. Addiction has NO BOUNDARIES- rich/poor; white/black; professional/ blue collar-worker; make no mistake, addiction touches all of us. It is time that we stop this “War On Drugs” campaign & Re-Direct the money to Addiction Treatment Programs and also Prevention Programs to educate our youth in hopes to avoiding the pitfalls of potentially using drugs/alcohol. Thank you for addressing this issue in your article. I appauld your efforts & encourage you to continue to promote this realistic approach in your ongoing law practice.
    With Kindest Regards,
    Elizabeth T. Stephenson, M.S.S.W.
    Adult Child of an Alcoholic

  2. Thank you Elizabeth for your insightful comment. It is a great inspiration to me to hear from like minded individuals in other professions. I couldn’t agree more that the best allocation of our limited resources is in support of education, prevention and treatment. As professionals, we have an opportunity to encourage others in our respective fields to join us in calling for systemic change. Feel free to stay in contact with me by following me on twitter
    or you can find me on facebook

  3. Charis says:

    You are so cool! I don’t believe I’ve truly read through something like this before.

    So great to discover somebody with original thoughts on this topic.
    Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

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