by Tarah Hodgkinson
A colleague and I were discussing petty theft and property crime in his community. After consulting the community, we were told that very few people reported these incidents to the police. I asked him what he thought was going on with so many people experiencing petty theft from their property.
“It’s addiction” he responded.
This was not a new revelation. Research often finds that addiction is a driving factor for stolen property. We have discussed this a number of times in this blog.
However, the illness of addiction is rarely taken into account when convicting individuals who commit a crime just to get their next score. Consequently, the justice system becomes a revolving door for those battling substance abuse. Unable to obtain their drug of choice legitimately, they turn to illegitimate activities like petty theft, robbery or even the sex trade.
Many addictive substances like alcohol are legal and many alcoholics hold regular jobs and pay for their addiction without engaging in crime. But drug addicts who end up in criminal court are defined as burglars, robbers or sex workers. In reality, they are better defined as individuals living with substance abuse and very little support for addressing their addiction. Drug courts offer an alternative.
Drug courts take a public health approach to substance abuse disorder. All parties work together including lawyers, police, public health professionals, drug counsellors and members in the community. Unlike a traditional criminal court, drug courts are specifically focused on helping addicted offenders into long term recovery.
Drug courts are particularly important for marginalized populations that already suffer additional roadblocks on the road to recovery. While different drug courts have different configurations, they are gaining support around the world, such as in Canada, the United States and Australia.
Many crime prevention tactics in CPTED, for example, focus on preventing opportunities for property crime. However, if we don’t consider the social factors influencing some of these crimes, then those battling substance addictions merely find another way to feed their habit.
It’s easy to think that we just need harsher laws for drug use. But anyone who has dealt with addiction personally, or watched someone experience it first hand, knows that punishment and deterrence tactics rarely work.
Why do people get addicted in the first place? The answers are complex. While drug courts may not resolve every cause of addiction, they do offer a public health approach to what is largely a public health problem, not a criminal one.