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Commentary: Celebrating Drug Courts From Coast to Coast

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Tammy moved to Durango, Colorado with her husband when he became pastor of a local church. Together they had three kids, and became a fixture in the community. On April 6, 2004, Tammy’s husband suffered a massive heart attack while the two were asleep in bed. He died in her arms. She was shattered. Tammy had never taken a drink before the sudden death of her husband but she turned to alcohol to cope. The downward spiral was quick and destructive. Six years later, after losing everything and nearly killing herself in a car crash, she was given the chance to enter Drug Court.

During the month of May, I traveled over 5,000 miles across the country visiting communities that save money, cut crime and reduce recidivism through Drug Courts. The tour was part of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ National Drug Court Month celebration. We called it All Rise America! From small towns like Page, Arizona to major cities like Denver, Colorado and Brooklyn, New York, this trip put a spotlight on what can be achieved when justice and treatment professionals work together to give addicted offenders the opportunity for treatment.

But All Rise America! and National Drug Court Month is not just a celebration for individual programs and communities. It honors each and every person who believes that treatment, not prison, is where addicted people belong. It is a call to action. The incredible stories of redemption and transformation brought to bear every day in Drug Court uplift us, but they also remind us that there are far too many people for whom treatment is still out of reach.

A Drug Court graduation in Bloomington, Illinois.

A Drug Court graduation in Bloomington, Illinois.

I heard someone say that once you know something, you can’t unknow it. Anyone who has seen a Drug Court in action would certainly agree with this. Once you have seen someone thank the police officer who arrested them because it led to their first opportunity for treatment, or a mother thank a judge for giving her back her daughter, or a veteran stand at parade rest in a courtroom full of his peers and accept the help that is being offered, then you know that the pace of reform does not match the urgency it requires.

This is precisely the reason for All Rise America! The statistics on Drug Courts are compelling, but we want every American to see for themselves the faces behind the numbers. We want to show you how Drug Courts work, the people they serve and the professionals who work tirelessly to make them successful. Whether you are familiar with Drug Courts or new to the concept, All Rise America! demonstrates the incredible capacity for human beings to change. It gives you hope that there is a part of our criminal justice system that not only works to reduce substance abuse and crime, but saves lives. We want you to know about Drug Court so that you can’t unknow it.

We met Tammy on our swing through Durango. We were there for her graduation from Drug Court. With her baby grandchild cooing and crawling about, Tammy stood before the court and told her story. She was poised and spoke with dignity and gratitude. She thanked each member of the team for what they had done for her. “At 48 years old, it was the first time that someone told me I was enough. I was enough to be a good mom. I was enough just the way I am to be a good grandmother, a good friend. I was enough,” she said. Tammy has rebuilt her relationship with her family and is finding her way in the community. Judge Martha Minot thanked her for her hard work and noted that earlier in the year, when Tammy was laid off from a job she loved, she did not drink. She used the tools she had learned in Drug Court and got through it sober.

Drug Court graduates and family in Cassopolis, Michigan.

Drug Court graduates and family in Cassopolis, Michigan.

Throughout May, as I saw the transformation that takes place in Drug Court, I couldn’t help but think about the incredible capacity of human beings to change if they are just given a chance. But I also couldn’t help but think about those who do not get this opportunity. In a neighboring community with no Drug Court, Tammy would probably be in prison right now. Instead, I got to see her hold her grandson, surrounded by friends and family, and enjoy living in her well-earned moment.

There are over 2,700 Drug Courts in the United States today. Their success is no longer up for debate. Rigorous scientific research continues to show that Drug Courts cut crime, reduce drug abuse and recidivism, and save taxpayers money. There remains, however, roughly 1.2 million people in the criminal justice system today who research says would benefit from Drug Court, but are unable to gain access. We can, and must, do better.

The only way we will reach our goal of putting Drug Court within reach of every American in need is with the support of people like you. We invite you to visit www.AllRiseAmerica.org and read the inspiring stories of Drug Courts coast to coast. If you feel moved to help, consider a donation so that we can continue to expand these programs or tell your friends, families, and colleagues to see for themselves. All Rise!

Christopher Deutsch, Director of Communications of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals

3 Responses to this article

  1. dean hale / September 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    DRUG COURTS WORK!
    Dean H.
    Rotterdam, NY

  2. Marcia Kirschbaum / June 17, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I think drug courts can be a great option to incarceration for non-violent drug offences, which currently have hundreds of thousands of people behind bars, just for possession or petty, non-violent “crimes” that come with it – like probation violations or petty theft, for problem users.

    BUT we live in a nation of 300,000,000 plus, where 65% are using drugs. That’s 200 million people using drugs!

    Of that number, an estimated 20 million use illicit drugs every year.

    Of that number, eighty-five percent or 1.7 million of those illicit drug users — whether they use alcohol, prescription medications or drugs deemed illegal — do not have an actual addiction or dependency problem.

    Why are we throwing such massive (and still punitive) resources into a population that for the most part, doesn’t need help in the first place?

    Wouldn’t we be better off to identify that 15% population, who actually needs help and have the resources to get them all the various modalities that have been proven beneficial to treat addiction – counseling, acupuncture, amino acid therapy, etc… along with drug court – which is still expensive?

  3. Avatar of Dr. Robert Fisher
    Dr. Robert Fisher / June 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    As a former director of a drug court, and now currently a college professor, I can only emphasize the progress Drug Courts have made in individual lives. Seeing a person get their family back and become a productive citizen is one of the most gratifying things in my life.

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