Can I Avoid Jail Time If I Go to Rehab?
Whether you’ve facing a court case or your friend or family member has just been arrested, facing jail time for substance abuse can be stressful. The good news is that, in much of the U.S., the approach to substance misuse, including driving under the influence, tends to focus on preventive care first and penal punishment later. That’s important, considering 18.5 million Americans have a drug or alcohol problem. In fact, depending on age and where they’re arrested, between 43% and 83% of all arrestees are intoxicated at the time of arrest. It makes sense for court to take a preventive approach and to attempt to remediate and rehabilitate rather than to incarcerate. That need is brought more into light by the fact that an estimated 17% of all incarcerated persons were arrested under the influence.
Essentially, if you or a loved one is facing a court case and potential jail, drug rehab or alcohol rehab might be an option. Laws and procedure vary by state. However, there is a strong chance you can make a convincing case that you need rehab and not jail time.
Before You Ask for Rehab Instead of Jail
If your state allows you to request going to rehab instead of jail, keep in mind that it is a legally binding agreement. You normally agree to rehab, a certain number of checks with a social worker, and follow up with a local self-help group (normally AA or an equivalent). In most cases, if you fail to attend this, fail to cooperate with your social worker, or fail to show sufficient signs of investment – your social worker will recommend you back to jail.
So, if you’re not prepared to commit to rehab, you’re likely better off choosing jail. Otherwise, you’ll do both. Choosing rehab instead of jail is a commitment and if you fail, the repercussions are real.
How do I go to Rehab Instead of Jail?
In most cases, you can choose to go through a normal court and hope that the judge offers you rehab. In this case, your chances of being offered rehab instead of jail depend on the judge. This is likely if and only if:
- You have a proven history of multiple substance-related criminal offenses such as having been arrested for multiple DUIs
- Your lawyer requests it on your behalf
- You have not committed a violent offense
Additionally, if you have a proven history of multiple substance-related criminal offenses or a history of DUIs and your judge does not offer rehab as an option, your lawyer can still request it later. Unfortunately, the judge is not obligated to respond to this request.
This is the best option to choose if you think there’s a strong chance of you not being found guilty or you are confident that you can or will be assigned rehab instead of jail through the judge.
Requesting Drug Court
If you’re certain that you are or will be found guilty or do not think the judge will assign you rehab instead of jail, or just don’t want to take the risk, most states offer drug court. To qualify, you have to meet the requirements listed above. You also have to:
- Agree to drug or alcohol testing
- Be diagnosed with a physical dependence on a substance
- Waive due process rights
- Sign a preemptive confession
- Consent to long-term monitoring over the course of the treatment program
Drug court can result in you attending a federal corrections center for treatment. In other cases, you may be able to stay in your own home and receive outpatient treatment. Unfortunately, drug court also isn’t always available. In 2020, there were only 3,000 drug courts in the United States, half of which cater to juvenile arrestees. However, if you do have a history of substance use, your lawyer can put in the request for you. Most states are very happy to refer to you if there is a place, because drug courts have a significantly decreased recidivism rate over traditional court.
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What Happens When You Attend Court Ordered Rehab?
In most cases, you’ll be selected for rehab following an examination by a case worker. The case worker will determine if you have a significant substance use disorder and if it contributed to the criminal behavior. If the answer is no, you will be recommended back to jail.
If the answer is “yes”, you’ll be recommended to a rehab program. In most cases, this is rehab period extends from 1 to 6 months, followed by lengthy commitments to either a halfway house or to a 12-step program, normally Alcoholics Anonymous.
This treatment may occur as either outpatient or inpatient care. In the case of inpatient care, you’ll normally attend a federal treatment center. This is basically a penitentiary, but you’ll receive therapy and drug treatment while there.
Does Rehab Instead of Jail Make Sense?
Many of the strongest arguments around using rehab instead of jail are actually myths. For example, many people argue that sending people to rehab instead of to jail is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. But, a study in New Jersey showed that the state spent $5,000 less per patient by sending them to rehab instead of jail. In addition, patients sent to rehab are significantly less likely to be arrested again. For example, in Baltimore, Maryland drug courts saw a 48% re-arrest rate while traditional penitentiary saw a 64% re-arrest rate, with a 24 month follow up.
That’s important, because 25% of all crimes are estimated to be drug crimes (possession, use, trafficking, disorderly conduct, theft to fund drug acquisition). When you imprison someone for substance abuse without treating that substance abuse, they quite frequently simply continue to use when they get out of prison. That same data shows that 75% of untreated persons arrested for drug offenses go on to create similar offenses.
That becomes even worse when you look at the state of modern prisons. An estimated 50% of all prisoners in the United States meet criterion for substance use disorders. Yet, just 10% of those are ever able to access Federal Residential Drug Abuse Programs. Getting people out of the loop of drug abuse, prison, and re-arrest means taking a different approach.
While many people initially choose for rehab instead of jail because they don’t want to go to jail, doing so is the right choice for your long-term health and wellbeing. Not only does it significantly and statistically allow you to reduce your chances of re-arrest, it allows you to spend that time building yourself up, working towards your life and goals, and learning the skills to live a happy life without drugs and alcohol.
Can I Choose My Court Ordered Rehab?
Normally, no. However, in some cases, you might be able to work out with your lawyer to pay for your own treatment. That’s unlikely in most states. Instead, you’ll likely move into a state-funded program where you can more easily be monitored and reported on. That’s important, because you’ll have a case worker for the duration to ensure that you stay involved in treatment.
Rehab is life changing. It can help you to rebuild yourself so that you no longer need drugs and alcohol. In the short term, it helps you to avoid prison. In the long term, it might give you the tools you need to improve your life. Asking for help instead of imprisonment is the right choice for you, and hopefully you can commit to it and take that chance.
If you or your loved-one struggles from substance abuse please contact us today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors. We’re here to help you recover.