Drug Courts in the Americas

Drug courts in the United States are presented as an alternative to incarceration for people arrested for minor drug offenses where drug use is considered an underlying cause of the crime, thus theoretically serving as a tool for reducing prison and jail populations. The United States has nearly 30 years of experience with these courts, which have spread to all 50 states as well as US territories. Many countries have looked to the US experience with drug courts as a model to be adopted. While the United States drug court model has been embraced by other countries around the world, perhaps the most organized efforts to expand this policy are those currently underway in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Drug court proponents assert that drug courts are cost-effective, reduce recidivism as well as time spent in detention (prison or jail), and offer drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration for people whose drug use fuels their criminal activity. In order to evaluate these assertions, the report Drug Courts in the Americas by the SSRC’s Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Program reviews key findings from the United States’ experience with drug courts that may be useful to inform debates in other countries about drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug crimes. Although major institutional, legal, and cultural differences exist, the United States’ long experience with drug courts offers an important source of information for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that have either established, or are looking to establish, drug courts. The report also presents a brief overview of where and how drug courts have been implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean in order to identify, to the extent possible, the different experiences and challenges faced by those countries. The report offers a set of recommendations for countries interested in alternatives to the criminal justice system for drug-related offenses.
 
Title
Drug Courts in the Americas
Published
Social Science Research Council, March 2018
Citation
Drug Courts in the Americas (New York: Social Science Research Council, March 2018).