U.S. 'Addicted' to Drug Courts?
March 25, 2011 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Within the realm of criminal justice policy, drug courts have received growing attention and widespread adoption in the United States as a solution to cycles of addiction and incarceration. Their effectiveness has again been questioned, however, in recent reports released by the Justice Policy Institute and the Drug Policy Alliance: Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependent on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities and Drug Courts Are Not the Answer. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals issued a lengthy initial response, pointing to past research touting the success of the drug court model.

In recent years, seeming success of the drug court model has seeded other problem-solving courts, often referred to as community courts, which tackle issues ranging from mental health to domestic violence. The successful application of this model has also been contested:

  • The Future of Problem-Solving Courts: Inside the Courts and Beyond

  • Courting Disorder: Some Thoughts on Community Courts

  • Theorizing Community Justice Through Community Courts
  • posted by lunit (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
    Okay, I clicked on every one of these links, and they all were interesting. Most of them said we needed more rehabs, which I agree with. But, unless I missed something, none advocated for the decriminalization or legalization of using/selling drugs. This is my two pronged solution, from my, uh... socialist libertarian? perspective: remove punishment, be it jail or fines, from drug use/sales, and invest in rehabs that follow proven methods, so that anyone who wants a bed can get one.

    Oh, and let's regulate and sanction safe meth production so that trailers stop exploding.

    There, that's my platform. Vote for me.
    posted by Leta at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

    Nearly everyone who could break the cycle of of drug court addiction is in some way a member of the legal profession. You may as well hand morphine addicts the keys to a pharmacy. They need an intervention.
    posted by clarknova at 11:25 AM on March 25, 2011

    From what I can tell, the primary argument against drug courts and community courts is that it takes away resources from other community organizations that address the problem.

    However, each jurisdiction uses drug courts differently and many times members from these community organizations, as well as probation, are involved in the drug court process.

    The criminal justice system is always going to be involved as long as a law is being broken. Drugs are against the law. So the solution is to change the law, not chip away at institutions trying to deal with the consequences of the law.

    In any case, even if drugs were legal, we would still need these community courts.

    Many of these community courts deal with issues that would not be addressed, such as DWI. Alcohol is not illegal. Driving intoxicated is. Many people are forced to get the help they need when they hit rock bottom (being arrested) and go to DWI court (mandatory treatment).

    Without these "drug courts" we send people to regular court. What options exist then? Usually probation, jail and prison. And usually they get revoked while on probation because they keep doing drugs or drinking.

    Speaking as a prosecutor, I want to have more sentencing options, not less.
    posted by abdulf at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Leta -- re-read the Drug Policy Alliance report. That's exactly what "removing the criminal penalties for drug use" means.
    posted by gingerbeer at 11:51 AM on March 25, 2011

    Ah, okay, thanks for pointing that out.

    Upon rereading, I noticed that sometimes they used "reduce" criminal penalties, and sometimes they used "remove".

    I think that "reducing" the involvement of criminal justice system with substance abuse issues is something akin to saying, "Hrm, we are bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon. Let's use a pail instead!" I am in favor of full on legalization, full stop. Hopefully we get there in my lifetime, because even though I've consistently voted in favor of things like medical marijuana, it's a sadly piecemeal approach.
    posted by Leta at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2011

    Legalization is the answer.
    posted by dortmunder at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2011

    I wish The Straightener was still around.
    posted by desjardins at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

    I'm a drug court graduate!

    I can't speak to the efficacy of any program but the one I was in, but that one was little more than a series of cunningly-laid snares designed to suck as much money out of people as possible before incarcerating them.

    If I had to do it all over again, I'd have just taken the jail time. It would have been cheaper, less disruptive, and over with far sooner.

    But I was busted for misdemeanor pot possession. My only drug problem was that pot is illegal where I live.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

    I think that "reducing" the involvement of criminal justice system with substance abuse issues is something akin to saying, "Hrm, we are bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon. Let's use a pail instead!" I am in favor of full on legalization, full stop. Hopefully we get there in my lifetime, because even though I've consistently voted in favor of things like medical marijuana, it's a sadly piecemeal approach.

    I am wholly in favor of reducing the involvement of the criminal justice system in substance abuse. I'd like sensemaking scheduling criteria for controlled substances.

    But what do you mean by full legalization? Elimination of penalties for possession of drugs, or sale of drugs, or both? In any amount? And what should be legalized, known street drugs, prescription drugs, or both?
    posted by desuetude at 2:42 PM on March 25, 2011

    Since you asked, des, here's one answer.
    posted by gingerbeer at 3:10 PM on March 25, 2011

    I can't speak to the efficacy of any program but the one I was in, but that one was little more than a series of cunningly-laid snares designed to suck as much money out of people as possible before incarcerating them.

    I don't feel any better informed after reading that, but I would quite like to know what was supposed to happen vs. what actually did happen.
    posted by anigbrowl at 3:18 PM on March 25, 2011

    Also, this story about a new move to end the drug war in the UK has received predictably minimal coverage. But for those unfamiliar with UK politics, it's an unusually heavyweight and non-partisan grouping.
    posted by anigbrowl at 3:26 PM on March 25, 2011

    I would quite like to know what was supposed to happen vs. what actually did happen

    I've bitched about at length here before, but it was years ago and I can't be arsed to find my old comments, so I'll summarize:

    Drug court was two classes per week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, mid-day. I worked nights, so it didn't interfere with my schedule, but many of people I was in class with lost their jobs because of the timing of the classes.

    Everyone was assigned a weekly "color". Every day you called an automated answering system that told you which color had been called that day. If your color was called, you had to report to their facility for a urinalysis within two hours. If you failed to show: jail. If you pissed dirty: jail. If you pissed dilute: jail. If you showed late, you had to have a note from your employer explaining your delay. The drive from one end of the county to the testing facility could be more than an hour.

    Classes ($20 a pop, twice a week) consisted of an amalgam of AA rhetoric and film strips demonstrating the Horrors of Drugs. Sonetimes you'd have a urinalysis before class, another $25.

    At the end of every class, we were encouraged to join hands and recite the Lord's Prayer. When I objected on the grounds that a state-mandated class couldn't force me to participate in a religious service, my color came up five times in the next week. Odd coincidence, that.

    There were classes on coping, classes on life skills, classes on stress management techniques. Some of these were useful and informative.

    Some classes were just discussions, in which we were expected to "share our experiences". Um, no, I'm not going to confess anything to any agent of the state without my attorney present. I was not able to ascertain if these discussions were covered under laws protecting medical confidentiality. One counselor was an actual psychiatrist. The others were not.

    I was constantly pressed to admit that I had a drug problem. I told them that I often enjoyed smoking cannabis, didn't use daily, didn't use excessively, had never lost a job or friends or anything because of that use, so it seemed to me the only problem was that cannabis was illegal.

    So: dog and pony show bleeding people of money, looking to trip them up, preaching honesty and practicing duplicity. One Man's Experience.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

    Thanks - that was extremely interesting.
    posted by anigbrowl at 4:21 PM on March 25, 2011

    In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I should add that an acquaintance of mine is the head of one of the oldest "diversionary" programs in the US, and it has a commendable record of both a) keeping non-violent offenders out if jail and b) getting help to drug addicts who want to get clean. I know the guy because we are both involved in the (seemingly futile) quest to get our state to recognize cannabis as medicine. As someone who spent 15 years married to a woman with remitting-relapsing multiple sclerosis, I know for a FACT that cannabis was the single best palliative option available to her. But this guy and I have gone around and around debating the role of drug courts, and I'll concede this: if your drug of choice is prescription opiates or muscle relaxants, then drug court can help keep you out of jail and get you clean, if you want it to. But I DEEPLY RESENT being told I'm a criminal drug addict because I provided pot to a sick woman and smoked it myself. There is so much hypocrisy inherent in US drug laws that it's difficult to find the pony in that room full of shit.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:56 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

    I don't have a strong position on prescription drugs- I know they are abused, but we have a regulatory framework in for them, and they have all passed FDA scrutiny, so I'd just want more rehab available for those who need it to kick Vicodin or Oxy or whatever.

    As far as street drugs go, I want to see no penalties for possession or sale of any amount. Ideally, I'd like to see some sort of regulatory framework for their manufacture and sale, and see street drugs treated (more or less) the way booze is now.

    I am very familiar with the low level drug trade. It is an unbeatable economic opportunity for people who have few others. The reason there is so much money to be made is because of the risk involved. The only way to remove the risk is to remove the possibility of punishment. Hopefully, via legalization and regulation, we can end the gang and cartel involvement.

    Just as Prohibition didn't end alcoholism, the Drug War hasn't ended substance abuse. Just like a person can drink moderately, substance use does not equal addiction. I have tried damn near every drug known to man, and I liked most of them. But I outgrew that phase, and now the only drug (OTC, rx, or other) I use regularly is caffeine.

    I don't think it's responsible for the to treat a person who is only involved with drugs to make some money as someone with a health problem. It undermines everything- the credibility of the government, the real hurdle that legitimate addicts have to climb to get sober, and the ability to measure what rehab methods actually work.

    I also don't think it's responsible to jail people for being poor. We do this in various ways in this country, and they all suck. Not all people who sell drugs come from poverty, but a high percentage do, and the penalties are always stiffer for "poor" rather than "rich" drugs- see sentencing disparities between crack and powder coke, for example.

    The Drug War is just one facet of the War on the Poor.
    posted by Leta at 6:40 PM on March 25, 2011

    Drug courts have helped my family immensely.
    posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 7:01 PM on March 25, 2011

    How so?
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:18 PM on March 25, 2011

    I can only speak to the efficacy of the program in my county nebulously as I haven't looked at the primary research but have spoken (same social circle oddly enough) with the main researcher associated with the drug court system in our county. In his assessment it has led to decreased recidivism. With regards to marijuana, it's not prosecuted as stringently in my county, but it's certainly a waste of resources (also worth noting the researcher I talked smokes pot recreationally). Hypocrisy.

    I should mention explain my anecdote. The relatives it influenced were meth addicts. Three of them went through drug court, two of them relapsed, one was clean for 7 years and just recently relapsed. During the time they were involved in the program one of them finished their GED and another finished an associates and got a job. Effectiveness is relative but with respect to the alternatives I think it leads to better citizens. The Drug Policy paper disagrees with this but I think the solution may just be to appropriate the systems used in the more successful programs in the least successful.

    I can't comment on anigbrowl's mention of costs with any primary knowledge, but it's definitely the one of the most bogus part of the system from what I've heard. Most are also strongly coupled with AA as bitter mentioned, which some argue can be separated from faith but if you've even been around someone who's in AA actively you know that doesn't happen. While effective for some it alienates people.

    Reflecting on what I just wrote perhaps it hasn't helped me as much as I imagined.
    posted by EsotericAlgorithm at 10:39 PM on March 25, 2011

    This weekend's This American Life was a full hour on a "rogue" drug court in Georgia. Ira Glass wrote another case story here.
    posted by LyndsayMW at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2011

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