New federal research is giving momentum to the call for reduced penalties and more rehabilitation for drug offenders – including juveniles – across the nation. A study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that alternatives to handling drug cases, such as specialized courts that usher more people into rehab, can sharply drop recidivism rates, scale back on overall crime and produce deep cost cuts in an overwhelmed criminal justice system. The report comes as the nation is in somewhat of a split over how best to handle many criminal cases, including drug offenses. As Massachusetts considers a crackdown on repeat violent offenders, the position by many lawmakers has been to ease drug penalties. In Missouri, legislators passed a bill to create more parity in sentencing for powdered and crack cocaine offenses.