In the fifth decade of the federal “War on Drugs,” imprisonment feels almost like an absolute guarantee to those being prosecuted for drug-related offenses. The ubiquity of mandatory minimum sentences in law books around the nation and the aggressiveness with which police forces and legislators approach drug issues do little to stop people from getting that impression.
However, there are other legal options available for certain offenders. If you or a loved one ever finds themselves in this situation and wonders, “Can I avoid jail by going to rehab?”, the answer is a maybe.
Getting Treatment Instead of Prison Time
Going to rehab and not jail is not only a possible outcome of a court hearing, but one that happens frequently. Certain offenders can receive alternative sentences to jail time that focus more on treating them for their drug problems. These alternatives can include rehabilitation programs, as well as medical treatment and counseling.
It should be noted that this does not apply to all charges related to drugs. This option is more likely to be given to:
- First-time offenders, and sometimes even second-time offenders
- People facing non-violent charges, such as possession or DUI
- People who committed a crime specifically related to drugs, including if they committed it while under the influence
- Citizens who do not have a criminal record showing a history of violence or sexual assault
If you are sentenced to a rehab program, you must commit. The courts will stay in touch with the facility in which you are seeking treatment, and they will keep track of your progress in the program. If you drop out or otherwise fail to meet the mandates required by the court, the trial process for your case could continue, and you could face penalties if convicted.
Why Even Give This Option?
Imprisonment has long been the default approach to drug offenses, and this idea of not throwing every drug offender in jail may not sound “tough on crime.” However, new research from the past several years is showing evidence that imprisonment is doing little, if anything, to deter people from committing these offenses.
This past March, Pew Research identified a number of issues with the current system, including that based on statistical analysis, “higher rates of drug imprisonment did not translate into lower rates of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths.” As part of a more effective solution to the drug problem, they recommended “alternative sentencing to divert nonviolent drug offenders from costly imprisonment.” As public opinion gradually turns and prison populations swell, finding alternatives for non-violent, first-time offenders - including going to rehab and not jail - suddenly seems more reasonable.
Benefits of Treatment Options
This option certainly benefits low-level first-time drug offenders, but not just in the sense that they can avoid months or years behind bars. It should not be forgotten that the reason that rehabilitation is even an option is that it is meant to help convicted drug offenders recover from their addiction.
The philosophy behind the option of sentencing offenders to rehab instead of jail time is that these people committed their crimes because of drug addiction, and drug addiction is a disease. People convicted of certain lower-level drug crimes are only dangerous because they are not really “themselves.” Treatment of their disease, through court-ordered rehabilitation programs, is preferable because it eliminates, or at least is meant to eliminate, the reason they committed the offense in the first place.
It should also be noted here that convicts who enter prison with substance abuse issues often do not receive treatment. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) reported that in 2015, 45 percent of all inmates in Illinois “were deemed in need of treatment,” and proper and necessary treatment is not often accessible for them.
Treatment for offenders with drug problems can benefit the state in other ways. ICJIA notes in the same report, “Research shows offenders who participate in community-based drug treatment programs commit fewer crimes than those who do not participate.” In addition to reduced recidivism is the benefit of reduced incarceration costs. Fewer people in prison means less food, beds, supplies, and guards needed in each prison, which means less money paid by taxpayers.
While the option of going to rehab and not jail may be available for certain offenders, you will still need a drug crime attorney at your side who can help you through your legal situation. The experienced Chicago substance abuse legal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can assist you in finding alternatives to imprisonment. Reach out to us today for a free consultation at (312) 644-0444.