Drug Courts Poor Public Policy, Reports Charge [FEATURE]

With a pair of separate reports released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) have issued a damning indictment of drug courts as a policy response to drug use. Instead of relying on criminal justice approaches like drug courts, policymakers would be better served by moving toward evidence-based public health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, as well as by decriminalizing drug use, the reports conclude.

Since then-Dade County District Attorney Janet Reno created the first drug court in Miami in 1989, drug courts have appeared all over the country and now number around 2,000. In drug courts, drug offenders are given the option of avoiding prison by instead pleading guilty and being put under the scrutiny of the drug court judge. Drug courts enforce abstinence by imposing sanctions on offenders who relapse, including jail or prison time and being thrown out of the program and imprisoned on the original charge. The Obama administration wants to provide $57 million in federal funding for them in its FY 2012 budget.

Through organizations like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals  (NADCP), the drug court movement has created a well-oiled public relations machine to justify its existence and expansion. NADCP maintains that the science shows that drug courts work and even maintains a convenient response to criticisms leveled by earlier critics.

The Chronicle contacted NADCP for comment this week, but representatives of the group said they were still digesting the reports and would issue a statement in a few days.

But in a Monday teleconference, DPA, JPI, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which issued its own critical report on America's Problem-Solving Courts in 2009, slashed away at drug court claims of efficacy and scientific support. Drug courts are harsh on true addicts, don't benefit the public health or safety, and are an inefficient use of criminal justice system resources, they said.

"The drug court phenomenon is, in large part, a case of good intentions being mistaken for a good idea," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA's Southern California state deputy director and co-author of the DPA report, Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use. "Drug courts have helped many people, but they have also failed many others, focused resources on people who could be better treated outside the criminal justice system and in some cases even led to increased incarceration. As long as they focus on people whose only crime is their health condition, drug courts will be part of the problem -- not the solution -- created by drug war policies," she said.

"Even if drug courts were able to take in all 1.4 million people arrested for just drug possession each year, over 500,000 to 1 million people would be kicked out and sentenced conventionally," Dooley-Sammuli added. "Drug courts just don't make sense as a response to low-level drug violations."

The DPA report found that drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety. Previous "unscientific and poorly designed research" supporting drug courts has failed to acknowledge that drug courts often "cherry pick" people expected to do well, that many petty drug law violators choose drug courts because they are offered a choice of treatment or jail and drug courts thus are not diverting large numbers of people from long prison sentences, or that, given their focus on low-level drug violators, even positive results for individuals accrue few public safety benefits for the community.

Not only are drug courts' successes unproven, DPA said, they are often worse for the people participating in them. Their quick resort to incarceration for relapses means some defendants end up serving more time than if they had stayed out of drug court. And defendants who "fail" in drug court may face longer sentences because they lost the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge. In addition, the existence of drug courts is associated with increased arrests and imprisonment because law enforcement and others believe people will "get help" if arrested.

Worst, the DPA report found, drug courts are toughest on those who most need treatment for their addictions. Because of their use of quick sanctions against those who relapse, the seriously addicted are more likely to end up incarcerated for failing to stay clean, while those who don't have a drug problem are most likely to succeed. Drug courts typically don't allow what Dooley-Sammuli called the "gold standard" of treatment for opiate addiction, methadone or other maintenance therapies.

Drug courts should be reserved for cases involving offenses against persons and property committed by people who have substance abuse problems, while providing other options such as probation or treatment for people arrested for low-level drug law violations, the report recommended. It also called for bolstering public health systems, including harm reduction and drug treatment programs, to deal with drug use outside the criminal justice system, and for decriminalizing drug use to end the problem of mass arrests and incarceration.

"Drug courts are not a true alternative to incarceration," said Natassia Walsh, author of the JPI report, Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependency on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities. "They are widening the net of criminal justice control. Even the mere existence of a drug court means more people are arrested for drug offenses, which brings more people into the criminal justice system, which means increased costs for states and localities, as well as for offenders and their families."

The JPI report found that providing people with alternatives like community-based drug treatment are more cost-effective and have more public safety benefits than treatment attached to the criminal justice system, with all its collateral consequences.

"It is shameful that for many people, involvement in the criminal justice system is the only way to access substance abuse treatment in this country," said Walsh. "We need to change the way we think about drug use and the drug policies that bring so many people into the justice system. The dramatic increase in drug courts over the past 20 years may provide talking points for so-called 'tough-on-crime' policymakers; however, there are other, better options that can save money and support people and communities. More effective, community-based programs and services that can have a positive, lasting impact on individuals, families and communities should be available."

"All three of our reports have some things in common, " said the NACDL's Elizabeth Kelly. "They recognize that substance abuse is a public health issue not appropriate for the criminal justice system to handle, they recognize that these problem-solving courts cherry pick their participants, allowing them to inflate success rates, and they recognize that drug courts exclude the people who are most problematic and who have the most profound addictions," she said.

"It is fundamentally bad public policy to make the only means to treatment through the criminal justice system that stigmatizes and burdens the individual with all the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction," Kelly concluded.

The fight to avoid the drug policy dead end that is drug courts is on.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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"drug courts"

The " national association of drug court professionals". Man, ain`t that a kicker. Our current president admitted  during his run for "high" office, that the drug war was a colossal failure. $57 million in federal funds for drug courts will demonstrate that for all to see. The governor of Ga. , whose brother is a drug court judge in Savannah,  Ga. , is currently implementing a state-wide drug court debacle , based on the Savannah model. Imagine that. Decrim is not acceptable. Legal what!??!!  How many alcohol drug cases will the drug court judge[s] see? He claims it will save the state $$$. Insanity has a name and it is called " INSANITY". Wonder how the alcohol industry feels about "drug courts" ? Washington ,D.C. should change its name to Hypocrisy,D.C.. . Category 5 weather will visit...................

DPA/JPI "Report"

Yesterday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) simultaneously released two yoked reports attacking Drug Courts. The reports are, by their own admission, “unscientific,” and contain numerous unsubstantiated and sensationalized claims. Written by drug policy advocates rather than scientists, these reports turn a blind eye to the mountain of scientific evidence proving Drug Courts work in order serve their mutual drug decriminalization agenda.

 

The science proving the benefits and efficacy of Drug Court is unambiguous. Drug Courts significantly reduce drug-use and crime and save tax-payers a fortune. Simply put, Drug Courts have far superior outcomes than jail or prison, and greatly improve community treatment outcomes.  I am a retired drug court judge and can attest to the myriad of studies, including six meta analyses, that show the benefits. The Drug Policy Alliance and Justice Policy Institute have ignored these and other findings, choosing instead to cherry pick only the data that advances their aims.

 

Over the past 22 years of operation Drug Courts have diverted hundreds of thousands of prison-bound addicted offenders into community treatment and supervision.  Now serving 120,000 individuals per year, Drug Courts reunite broken families, serve our nation’s veterans when substance abuse and mental illness lead them astray, intervene with juveniles on the brink of a debilitating life of addiction and crime, and stop repeat drunk drivers. Drug Courts are here to stay because they have withstood, time and again, rigorous empirical scrutiny and proven their efficacy and cost-benefit to America 

For a full response, see www.allrise.org

I can see drug courts being

I can see drug courts being beneficial for persons with problematic substance abuse and/or mental illness. We have mental health courts where I live. The commonwealth attorney is not willing to extend the concept to illicit substances. What I have a problem with is the criminal justice system being used to force casual marijuana smokers into treatment they don't need, especially if that treatment (consisting of drug tests with sanctions) just drives them to more dangerous alcohol use. You are right about the Drug Policy Alliance's lack of credibility. They spent millions to successfully pass Prop 36 in California, which is essentially coerced treatment. And now they criticize the model they have helped perpetuate!

DPA/JPI "Report"

Yesterday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) simultaneously released two yoked reports attacking Drug Courts. The reports are, by their own admission, “unscientific,” and contain numerous unsubstantiated and sensationalized claims. Written by drug policy advocates rather than scientists, these reports turn a blind eye to the mountain of scientific evidence proving Drug Courts work in order serve their mutual drug decriminalization agenda.

 

The science proving the benefits and efficacy of Drug Court is unambiguous. Drug Courts significantly reduce drug-use and crime and save tax-payers a fortune. Simply put, Drug Courts have far superior outcomes than jail or prison, and greatly improve community treatment outcomes. I am a retired drug court judge and have reviewed the research, including six meta analyses, that show drug courts work. The Drug Policy Alliance and Justice Policy Institute have ignored these and other findings, choosing instead to cherry pick only the data that advances their aims.

 

Over the past 22 years of operation Drug Courts have diverted hundreds of thousands of prison-bound addicted offenders into community treatment and supervision.  Now serving 120,000 individuals per year, Drug Courts reunite broken families, serve our nation’s veterans when substance abuse and mental illness lead them astray, intervene with juveniles on the brink of a debilitating life of addiction and crime, and stop repeat drunk drivers. Drug Courts are here to stay because they have withstood, time and again, rigorous empirical scrutiny and proven their efficacy and cost-benefit to America.

 

For a full response, see www.allrise.org

Maybe in comparison to

Maybe in comparison to prison, but the question is are they better in comparison to decriminalization and harm reduction?

It's hard to say about

It's hard to say about decriminalization since in order to for this to happen there needs to be mountain of laws done away with.  Keep in mind that NO STATE can create a Law and lessens or supersedes Federal Law.  So States like California, that have created Marijuana laws, are in violation of Federal Law.  Why this, or other, administrations have NOT followed through in this respect is beyond me.

However, in regards to harm reduction, ALL of the Drug Courts focus on this.  This is the reason they exist.  The best harm reduction is abstinence.  If an addict abstains from using they are less likely to contract various diseases, they are less likely to rob or steal for drug money, they are less likely to get behind the wheel, they are less likely to be victims of others, etc . . . I know alot of addicts, most recovering.  My family has been involved in the 12 step program for over 35 years.  They have started programs in several areas.

But at Her Honor pointed out, there are REAMS of reports available and some organizations cherry pick what information they want to gather support for their cause.  Yes, it happens on both sides of the table.  BUT in this regard when you look at the reports in their entirety you will see there that Drug Courts do indeed work.

irrelevancy

The fact that the states can't supersede federal law is irrelevant because most cases aren't federal.  Therefore this is no excuse for not having better drug court arrangements.

That's not what I mean by harm reduction

The point of harm reduction is that abstinence does not have to be the only alternative. I agree that abstinence is the ultimate harm reduction, if it can be achieved. But that's besides the point because the idea of harm reduction is that, while always trying to persuade addicts of abstinence, in the mean time, you reduce the harm of the drugs that they are using. This is not a contradiction as many people say. It is not a conflicting message to say "if you want to keep using keep using, but minimize the harm and risk as much as possible, and always remember that abstinence would be even better". The message is "be as healthy and functional as you can manage to be, and we'll help you in being as healthy and functional as you can manage to be". The question is, are drug courts, which ultimately include the threat of jail if abstinence is not achieved, better than harm reduction and no threat of jail (unless committing a crime other than possession)?

DPA/JPI report

I agree wholeheartedly with Judge Hora's remarks.  The DPA/JPI report is riddled with inaccuracies, distortions, and misrepresentations.  It is shoddy and unprofessional.  It is obvious the authors don't understand drug courts and their criticisms of drug court research is ludicrous.

DPI/JPI Opinion Papers

Their are a multitude of methods one could adopt in advocating for the decriminalization and/or legalization of drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Justice Policy Institute chose one of the worst ones imaginable. I am among many who spent a career trying to convince judges and other criminal justice professionals to send "offenders" to treatment rather than jail. This was an uphill battle in the 80s and 90s. To ignore the event of arrest as an opportunity (sometimes the _only_ opportunity) for intervention for a chronic addict or alcoholic is itself criminal, and stupid besides. Worse is to attack such an intervention on the grounds that it is a waste of resources and bad policy. Attacking drug courts because you believe in the decriminalization of drugs is like attacking boats because you don't like the water.

How about fat people, i.e.

How about fat people, i.e. people with poor diets? Tobacco smokers? Non-compliant diabetics? Should they all be forced into healthy behaviors based on a threat of jail? If drug courts are so great, perhaps the benefits should be extended to all Americans who engage in risky behaviors. 

DUI/Drug Court corruption

I was placed in dui/drug court for 2 MIPs of alcohol. I am just another number to make the state quota so the federal government will continue to fund the program... TALK ABOUT CORRUPTION IN THE GOVERNMENT. Federal funds are being wasted on me for 2 minor charges, while they could be put to use to an ACTUAL DUI or Drug offender. In the DUI/Drug Court I am currently in-learned from experience-one is GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT. Not to mention the ETG Test used to detect alcohol in ones system has been PROVEN TO BE INACCURATE and leads to FALES-POSITIVES... so the court ships participants to jail if any contact is made with any alcohol even it it is unintentional (hand sanitizer, after shave, perfumes), vs actually consuming alcohol (drinking).

sanity

There is only one way to deal with drugs in America.  We must accept the fact that a desire for intoxication is simply part of the human condition.  Some accomplish this with alcohol: some with tobacco: some with caffeine and some use other drugs.  When we look at this with the proper perspective, it is clear that tobacco and alcohol are without a doubt the two most dangerous drugs on Earth, and as long as they are legal there is no justification for prohibition to exist at all.  Prohibition is just sustaining the black market profits for illegal drugs and destroying our country from the inside out.  And with all this "law and order" we are not keeping drugs from anyone.  The only people in America who do not use drugs and those who choose not to do so.

The right thing to do is this.  Anyone who has a legal right to buy and consume deadly tobacco and alcohol must have the same legal right to grow and consume marijuana without fear of prosecution or persecution from anyone.  Then get all the farmers growing as much hemp as possible: that's where the money is.  It sits there in the fields all summer, sucking CO2 out of the air and producing more oxygen than any other plant of comparable size.  Then in the fall, we make ethanol from the leaves so we can feed our corn crop to cattle to produce beef that poor people can afford again.  The stalks produce the strongest natural fiber known, which replaces a lot of the nylon we use (sorry DuPont) and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.  The seeds are very high in amino acids, which are very nutritious.  This whole thing has always been about hemp, not marijuana so let's let hemp be the solution to the problem.

As far as other drugs are concerned a simple doctor visit and prescription can deal with that.  At least we can finally count the number of people using drugs and the black market is closed forever.

Crystal Meth: Here's the deal on meth.  In the 70's you could buy pharmaceutically manufactured amphetamines at the drugstore if you had a fat girlfriend.  Then the government, in its finite wisdom noticed that it was skinny boys who were picking up these diet pill prescriptions - not fat girls.  So to end the abuse, they removed amphetamines from the market.  That's what opened the door for meth.  If we let speed freaks go to the doctor and have a physical at their own expense and get a script for safely manufactured amphetamines, meth will go away all by itself. 

But the bottom line is simple.  The United States government isn''t waging war on drugs.  They are waging war on the American people.  This is why it must STOP NOW.      

Drug Courts & Drug Policy

Rusty-I just couldn't agree with you more or verbalize it any better. But I'm afraid it will never end as long as anyone believes it is something that can be won, as opposed to recognizing what is being lost.

Camps Not Courts

1.  In reviewing Rusty's round-up of hemp virtues, above, I hope some readers will consider: is it not logical that by ingesting some of this fibrous superplant we can incorporate some of its powers into ourselves and be stronger, more flexible, etc.?   Especially more imaginative, which is what's needed to create GOOD REHAB PROGRAMS for drug offenders.  2.  I would add another hemp value that particularly impresses me: it is said to be one of the best PRECURSOR CROPS FOR TREES.  And, guess what, corn is said to be one of the better precursor crops for cannabis!  3.  It is now said by many that the main object of concern and struggle in the next generation will be not oil but FRESH WATER.  Trees are the earth's principal custodians of water.  Trees capture and stockpile water and release it gradually, along with oxygen, into the air to return as moderate well dispersed rainfall, helping avoid both drought and flooding.  Increasing the forest should be planetwide priority #1.  4.  Legalized hemp would open the way to plant cannabis next year in the corn fields of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana etc. and, after a year or two of topsoil conditioning, plant appropriate selected tree species (where's Johnny Appleseed when we need him?) replacing the presentday overreliance on raising feedgrains for cancer redmeat beefcattle.  5.  The LABOR PROGRAM planting first the cannabis and then the trees (and also clipper-harvesting megatons of fire-hazard deadwood which can be logged and shipped to town for sustainable carpentry or ground up and used for erosion control and composting) would provide some of the most inspiring and character-building work on the planet, a BETTER "ALTERNATIVE TO INCARCERATION" than those overrated $$ maelstroms of overpaid vengeful disparaging paperwork which are called courts.


 

hokey pokey

if the premise is to have "low-level" drug arrestees misdemeanor types in a drug court, then the problems as reported above are readily possible. if you have convicted felons who can have their sentenced reduced, then the above problems disappear. failure just means finishing your sentence. success means getting your sentenced reduced by many years. i know, as i worked in a drug court that started out with convicted felony who were all looking a t between 5 and 20 years in prison.

 

drug courts disguised as diversion program will never work. to easy to mess up.

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