How to Use the Criminal Justice System to Start Recovery


Sober Recovery Expert Author


Unfortunately, many individuals in active alcoholism or addiction find themselves on a collision course with the criminal justice system. However, despite facing pending criminal charges, this initially negative experience can be used as a turning point to a positive period of recovery.

Diversion Programs for Recovery

Many first time offenders, as well as those offenders exhibiting substance abuse or mental health issues, can often obtain significant support from the criminal justice system if they're charged with certain crimes caused by or related to outstanding addiction issues.

Unfortunately, many individuals in active alcoholism or addiction find themselves on a collision course with the criminal justice system.

In many cases, courts offer an outstanding pre-trial diversion program, which if successfully completed by the offender, will result in the dismissal and sealing of their criminal arrest. Generally, the pre-trial diversion program offered by the courts, which is the financial responsibility of the offender to pay, relates to the nature of the offense. It may include programs related to anger management, substance abuse recovery, and mental health support programs existing in most jurisdictions with mid to large sized populations.

Alternative Sentencing

In most jurisdictions, the criminal justice system offers first-time offenders of substance abuse related offenses the option to recover in lieu of going to jail. In essence, an alternative sentence is a suspended sentence with additional case-specific requirements that will require sobriety and attendance at recovery meetings as part of your alternative sentencing agreement. A further incentive offered as part of these programs may also include alternative sentencing that concludes with a dismissal or reduction of the original charge. In short, the criminal justice system seeks as strongly as possible to reform and resolve the outstanding substance abuse issues in the offender, which is an excellent—though not entirely voluntary—means of achieving sobriety.

Required Completion of Substance Abuse Treatment

In certain cases, the courts may convict an individual and in lieu of sentencing the individual to jail or prison, the individual must complete a period of substance abuse treatment in a facility approved by the courts, alongside other probationary measures at the discretion of the courts. In certain cases, failure to complete the rehabilitation program to the satisfaction of the courts will result in a violation of the probationary period and a remanding back into custody. However, by using the court’s offer of substance abuse treatment wisely, offenders can successfully negotiate the conclusion of their existing criminal charges and at the same time, start their new life in recovery.

Community Service Requirements

In certain jurisdictions, an offender may be sentenced to community service in lieu of incarceration. In many of these jurisdictions, community service programs participating in these programs include other state and non-profit sector programs that deal directly or indirectly with substance abuse and addictions populations. In these cases, the offender may find connections to the recovery community, or at the very least recognize the potential outcomes and risks of their current substance use problems. Furthermore, if they're already established program members, community service sentencing may allow offenders to reconnect with recovery programs through sharing their experiences in dealing with substance use and recovery.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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