Authorities in Argentina are considering a proposal to establish treatment for drug addiction as an alternative to incarceration for people accused of minor crimes, a model that has shown promise in other jurisdictions where it has been applied.
Officials from the justice and security ministries are working with Argentina's anti-drug agency, known by the Spanish acronym SEDRONAR, to draft a proposal for implementing special courts to handle criminal cases involving drug addicts, La Nación reported.
The nationwide proposal is based on a pilot program that was established in 2014 in the northwestern province of Salta. The theory is that the special courts help reduce recidivism by addicts who commit crimes to sustain their addiction.
Addicts accused of minor crimes can request admission to drug treatment programs instead of incarceration. Defendants must meet certain requirements set by the judge in their case. If they fail to meet those requirements, their case may be returned to the normal justice system, and they could face jail time.
The program was developed as a response to the high rates of drug addiction among criminal defendants. A 2012 study found that 69.5 percent of the prison population had consumed illegal drugs, compared to about 10 percent of the general population, according to La Nación.
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Officials in Salta have claimed that the pilot program has shown success in reducing recidivism and addiction, but a systematic analysis of the program's efficacy was only begun in October of this year. Nevertheless, there are examples of similar programs in the United States that may shed light on some of the pros and cons of addiction treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
Proponents of so-called "drug courts" in the United States argue that these programs save money by diverting defendants into drug treatment and keeping them out of prison. They also argue that drug courts reduce recidivism and addiction by mandating treatment and incentivizing compliance with the threat of jail time if requirements are not met.
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Critics, on the other hand, argue that drug courts have been at best minimally effective at reducing recidivism and addiction, and that in many cases they do not save money. They point out that many defendants with serious addiction problems fail to meet the programs' requirements and end up incarcerated rather than continuing to receive necessary treatment.
Both arguments have their merits, but a long-term, government-sponsored study found that US drug courts do indeed save money and reduce recidivism rates. If Argentina moves ahead with this proposal, it will be important for authorities to carry out similar studies and refine the programs based on the results of those analyses.