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The Obama Administration has embraced the concept of drug courts, which provide nonviolent drug offenders with treatment instead of incarceration. But critics of the system say the courts could end up costing more money and lead to longer sentences for some offenders, according to U.S. News & World Report.

There are more than 2,700 drug courts in the United States, the article notes. Legal experts say drug courts are a less costly and more effective option than prison for many low-level repeat offenders. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), every dollar spent on drug courts yields more than two dollars in savings in the criminal justice system alone. Federal judges have instituted drug court programs in California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington. So far, about 400 defendants have been involved in federal drug court programs.

At a conference hosted by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals on Monday, ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske spoke about the benefit of drug courts, saying, “More and more people are realizing that they can turn their lives around.”

The Drug Policy Alliance released a report in 2011 called “Drug Courts Are Not the Answer.” The group argues that “drug courts may not reduce incarceration, improve public safety, or save money when compared to the wholly punitive model they seek to replace.” Founding Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann says that in the drug court system, participants can only avoid incarceration if they can quit without relapsing. “Typically it’s the case that people relapse if addicted … and then somebody who only had a minor drug problem may start getting re-incarcerated over and over again,” he said.

Nadelmann says there is a role for drug courts. “But some are playing it, and some are not,” he noted.

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