How to get rehab instead of jail?

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How to get rehab instead of jail? 

It is possible for one to get rehab instead of jail. However, this option is mostly available for those who commit non-violent crimes. The charges one gets depends on the type of drugs, amount, jurisdiction where the person is caught, and the existence of previous offenses.  

Any drugs containing powder cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, cannabis, ketamine, mephedrone, ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms, anabolic steroids and others can attract jail time [1].

When a person is caught buying, holding, or taking these drugs, they risk a fine or a prison sentence. Persons caught in possession of drug paraphernalia are also at risk of some kind of legal action.  

There's mounting evidence that proves incarceration is not the best approach for handling people with addiction problems.

For instance, a study by the Pew Research Institute showed that stiff prison sentences do not result in reduced drug related cases [2].  

The Pew research proposed alternative strategies to incarceration when dealing with drug related cases. Similarly, the Justice Research and Statistics Association reports that drug rehab has better outcomes than jail time. 

The statistics show that 57% of those who received drug rehab were arrested compared to 75% of those who did not [3].  

The decision to imprison is costly not only to the individual but also to the community. It costs the UK an average of 44.6 thousand British pounds a year to maintain prisons [4].  

When a person with substance abuse is imprisoned, they are immersed in a toxic environment consisting of people with far worse crimes.

Prisons become a place where the person with substance abuse can develop criminal tendencies. Moreover, they are likely to experience events that would make them worse when they are released.  

The Ministry of Justice report showed that 66% people incarcerated due to drug related cases are likely to reoffend. 

It has been proven that addiction is a complex disease that alters the brain chemistry. As such, courts are open to sending an offender to mandatory rehab and community service instead of a jail sentence.

Still, it is important to consult a legal expert to determine if that's the case.

Why rehab instead of jail? 

Rehab is better than jail because rehab focuses on placing a person on the path to recovery. Active addiction leads to irrational choices and people with substance abuse may engage in harmful behaviour without understanding the consequences of the drug addiction.  

Addiction is measured on a spectrum, from mild to severe cases. People with severe substance use may be convinced to enter rehab when faced with the risk of a jail sentence. 

Family members can also try to reason with the loved one to seek addiction treatment before the issue gets worse.  

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that people who engage in mandatory drug rehab are likely to commit to addiction treatment due to the legal pressure [5].  

In fact, people who are court-mandated to pursue rehab are likely to commit to addiction treatment and continue with long-term treatment options compared to those who go to rehab voluntarily.  

Most prisons offer treatment options to prisoners. Although the treatment options are effective, they are less effective than rehabilitation treatment because the offender is spending time with other worse offenders.

Some of the people in prison don't want to change and are likely to influence the person seeking drug rehab to engage in far worse crimes.  

When you or your loved one attend rehab, you spend time with people who want to recover.

The group meetings and support offered in drug rehab centres along with the individualized treatment plan increase your chances for long-term recovery.  

Each crime is unique and jail time may not be the best way to deal with drug-related offences. A mandated rehab by a drug court, or substance misuse court, is a productive alternative as it provides the offenders with a chance to improve their lifestyles by seeking drug addiction treatment.

Most rehabs offer services such as medical detoxification and therapy. Drug rehab helps the person develop coping skills that help them overcome the drug abuse.  

Going to rehab as an alternative to jail or prison 

Going to rehab for an alcohol problem is an effective alternative to jail or prison. Drug related offenders get an opportunity to address the drug addiction and work towards improving their lives. 

The prison system is not designed to handle cases of alcohol or drug use.  

A report by Linda Montanari, Luis Royuela, Manuela Pasinett, and others shows that prisons provide difficult living conditions where the poor and persons from marginal social groups are overrepresented [6].  

A significant portion of those in prisons are drug users, including problematic drug users.

Moreover, most of the prisoners were living in poor living conditions before entering the prison e.g., were unemployed, lacked stable accommodation. Some have a history or poverty, violence, and abuse 

Drug courts work by providing alternatives to jail time. The idea is to reduce recidivism and assist the offender to find alcohol and/or drug treatment.

Drug courts were incorporated to the traditional court system process to direct the much-needed attention to the unique circumstances surrounding drug related crime.  

By creating space for drug courts, the criminal justice system aims to reduce drug-related crime by dealing with the underlying root of the problem.  

The drug court system has access to a variety of community-support services such as: 

  • Parenting education  
  • Housing support  
  • Vocational training  
  • Mental health treatment.

These additional services are offered to increase one's chances for successful recovery from the addiction.

Some drug courts have access to other addiction resources such as methadone maintenance, detox, and residential treatment.

These services are made available for people who need additional services to aid them in the recovery process.  

Substance abuse is a complex issue as most people turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of escape. Instead of serving jail time, drug courts present people with drug related charges a chance to break the cycle of addiction.  

So how does it work?  

When a local court or a drug court offers the option of rehab, or if the offender expresses willingness to attend rehab, they will be subjected to court monitorization.

Also, the offender will be required to meet certain eligibility requirements as part of the drug rehab program sentencing.  

Court-mandated rehab is likely to be provided to first time offenders and those who commit non-violent drug crimes e.g., trespassing under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  

Major drug offenses such as being caught in possession of illicit drugs in class A or Class B, or any drug related violent crime is likely to lead to a new jail sentence.

Depending on the circumstance, a youth under the age of 18 may get a formal warning and police caution. After that, they may end up in a Youth Diversion Scheme where they will be taught about the risks of taking drugs [7].  

If imprisoned for alcohol or drug crimes, the offender will have to get treatment in jail. Prison-based drug treatment programmes are also effective at reducing recidivism and fighting addiction.

However, there are not as comprehensive as seeking treatment at a treatment centre.  

Why is rehab a good alternative to jail or prison? 

People with chronic substance use are at risk of engaging in violent crimes. The department of justice reports that drug users are more likely to commit crime than non-users [8].

When a person realises that they have a drug problem before committing crimes, they increase their chances of leading a crime-free life by attending an addiction treatment programme.  

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation help by immersing the individual in an environment that encourages sobriety. This environment consists of support groups with like-minded individuals.

What's more, you get to work with a team of professionals who will treat the addiction plus any other co-occurring health problem.  

You can find a treatment centre that offers workshops to equip their patients with the skills they need to earn a living.

Some drug rehab centres can also help you access resources such as housing and job placement after you complete treatment. Conversely, jail is not the best environment for drug rehabilitation.  

Most prisons don't offer a comprehensive treatment program that can help you manage alcohol or drug withdrawal.

Some prisons have an illicit economy where substances are smuggled [9]. Therefore, it is possible for someone to access drugs in some prisons.  

Going to jail leaves you with a criminal record that can negatively affect your life post-treatment. The likelihood of unemployment and homelessness is high among ex-prisoners [10].  

In fact, two-thirds of ex-prisoners end up re-offending within a year due to issues such as homelessness [11].

Drug rehab is a more effective alternative as they are equipped with the resources required to help you quit alcohol and/or drugs and build a better life.  

If a person receives a court mandated rehab, they should attend the drug court program as ordered without fail. Court ordered drug rehab is salvation for the offender.  

Drug courts have been around for over a decade. They offer drug rehab as a punishment to crimes and misdemeanours associated with drug use. Still, not everyone qualifies for this option.

The offender must meet certain eligibility requirements and must complete certain measures to be accepted. The offender will also be subjected to court monetization until they complete treatment.  


Other ways people may enter rehab in lieu of jail or prison 

In most cases, drug rehab is offered by a judge or recommended by a prosecutor. However, first-time offenders can plead with the court to give them drug rehab as a sentence.

For instance, people who receive first offense DUI (driving under influence) charge have an opportunity to change the court's view of their sentence. Such offenders will have a court date about a month later.  

While waiting for the court date, the person can change the court's judgement to their favour by seeking drug rehabilitation (e.g., joining support groups or outpatient treatment).

This action demonstrates to the court that they are making efforts to recover from drugs.

It is not a guarantee that an offender will be given drug rehabilitation or other forms of treatment instead of incarceration, starting treatment signals to the court that the person is ready to pursue recovery and build a better life.  

Depending on the treatment programme, a court-mandated rehab could involve [12]: 

  • Counselling sessions-where you get support from medical professionals.  
  • Mental health treatment.  
  • Assistance in job application.  
  • Accredited programmes e.g., anger management.  
  • A restorative justice programme where you meet people who were affected by your offense.  
  • Education/knowledge programme  
  • Learning interview skills.  

Failure to complete a drug rehabilitation programme, of failing a drug test could land you in court where you're likely to get a stricter punishment.  

How long do lockups last? 

There's a high proportion of inmates in lockups due to substance use or drug related crime. The duration of the lockups depends on the drug charges.

In the UK, drug crimes are usually categorized into two: 

  • Trafficking in controlled drugs  
  • Possession of drugs  

The severity of a drug charge is based on the class of drugs and the severity of the crime.

What that means is that if you are caught in possession of class A drugs, you are likely to end up paying a hefty fine of face life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the crime.  

Offenders found guilty of drug possession are likely to receive a caution from the police [13].

The drug statistics for England and Wales reports that the number of drug related offenses has declined from 46% I n2008/09 to 30% in 2018/2019. 

 However, the number of people who received custodial sentence has increased from 9% in 2008/09 to 16% in 2018/19.  

The average length of lockups for drug offenses is about 39.2 months. The possession of Class A drugs can attract up to seven years in prison or a hefty fine depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Alternatively, Class B and C drugs can result in up to five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine [14].  

Your sentence can increase if you are dealing drugs or supplying them, even if you're giving friends for free.  

Cannabis is illegal in the UK that's categorized as a Class B drug. A person caught with Cannabis may have to pay a fine of up to £2,500.

If you're arraigned in court for supplying or producing an illicit drug, you may get a maximum sentence of 14 years. Similarly, psychoactive substances can result in six months imprisonment.  

Typically, people struggling with drug addiction may find themselves locked up for months or years at a time. Once they enter the system, they're at risk of longer sentences for every additional charge.

Prisons treat people with addictions. But the environment is not suitable for supporting recovery. As such physically dependent persons who end up in jail will have a tough time fighting the addiction.  

Rehabilitation vs. Incarceration 

When people battling addiction go to jail, they enter into a drug rehabilitation program. The programme provides treatment and support from the point of arrest to sentencing and aftercare services [15].

The aim of treatment while in jail is to minimize the risk of re-offending and relapse.  

The success of any treatment program is measured by relapse rates. Government statistics show that less than a quarter of those who are discharged after receiving treatment are free from dependence [16].  

Most prisons have medical reviewers who assess the offender when they arrive at the prison. However, the success rate of rehab vs. incarceration is not clear as addiction is a complex medical issue.  

People struggling with addiction face similar issues once they leave treatment or prison. For instance, they may find changes in their family. A loved one may have relocated or may no longer want to associate with the person.  

The changes that one finds after treatment or incarceration plus the need to adjust may increase the risk of relapse. People who leave prison have a tougher time as they may struggle with finding a job and a place to stay.

The good news is that most prisons offer assistance to facilitate a smooth transition from prison to society.  

Preparing for incarceration  

It is advisable for people struggling with substance abuse to seek rehabilitation program for withdrawal symptoms before entering prison.

One reason for this is that it is difficult to determine the success rate of a treatment programme for a prison.  

Most people are terrified of the idea of prison, and they may try to overuse drugs, alcohol or both before entering prison. However, that is a dangerous idea as it can lead to serious health issues.

You may find that the prison does not offer medical-assisted detox. Also, heading to prison while intoxicated is a serious offense that can lead to additional charges, especially if you've committed crimes that attract long sentences.  

Most prisons don't have drug rehabilitation centres. Still, you can research into the policies and procedures of the jail you'll be sent to.

If you discover that the prison does not offer medical detox, you can attend a drug rehabilitation centre for this service.  

You can search for detox services near you. If you are in the UK, you can reach out to Abbeycare Foundation for affordable treatment options.  

If you are taking prescription drugs, it would help if you got a medical prescription from your healthcare provider. Most prisons don't allow you to enter jail with medications. 

However, a doctor’s prescription or letterhead may help them see that there are medications that you need to continue taking.  

To conclude

The legal system understands that addiction is a medical disease. As such, the courts permit people to seek drug rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

Moreover, the legal system created room for drug courts to handle drug or alcohol related crimes.  

Although it is possible to get drug rehabilitation instead of incarceration, you must meet certain requirements to be eligible. People who are first time offenders and are caught committing nonviolent crimes may plead for drug rehab instead of a jail sentence.

Alternatively, those with a record for engaging in criminal behaviour may get a good lawyer who will convince the court to allow them to seek treatment as penalty for their crimes.  

You can get treatment while in prison. The issue, however, is that prisons are full of people who commit the same crimes or worse. An offender may be motivated to engage in worse crimes because jail does not provide an environment that supports sobriety.  

Whatever way you look at it, rehabilitation makes economic sense not only for the individual but also to the society.  

If you or your loved one are battling with chronic alcohol or substance use, you stand a better chance at avoiding the courts by seeking treatment.

Addiction organizations such as Abbeycare Foundation offer affordable inpatient treatment.  

The earlier you seek addiction treatment the higher your chances of avoiding offenses that are likely to lead you to jail.

You can reach out to a certified addiction professional to discover the best treatment option for you depending on your needs.  

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: November 8, 2023