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As Drug Courts Expand, Critics Say They Aren’t Reaching Those in Greatest Need

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Marijuana and the law 3-6-13

As the use of drug courts expand, critics say people with minor marijuana infractions are more likely than those with serious drug problems to end up in these programs.

Drug courts allow drug offenders to receive court-supervised treatment instead of punishment, the Los Angeles Times reports. These programs can dramatically improve the lives of people addicted to drugs, the article notes. But a growing number of people are ending up in drug court because of minor marijuana infractions, some longtime supporters tell the newspaper.

In many areas of the country, people charged with marijuana possession are the largest group of offenders sent to drug-court programs. Often, people who chronically abuse hard drugs are not allowed to participate in these programs.

“For serious drug offenders it has been a far better alternative than prison,” said John Roman, a senior analyst at the Urban Institute, who studies drug courts. “The problem is very few people who have those serious problems get into one of these drug courts. Instead, we take all kinds of people into drug court who don’t have serious problems.”

In some cases, people who might have faced a fine for marijuana use in the regular court system are instead moved into the drug-court system. They are often forced to pay for costly treatment programs, and could face jail time if they break the program rules. “Once you get that deep into the criminal justice system, it can be really hard to get out,” Roman said.

Rick Jones, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Defender Service in Harlem, New York, says his nonprofit group often sees people with low-level marijuana offenses being pressured into drug-court treatment, while people addicted to drugs are disqualified. “It is not working the way we thought or hoped it would,” Jones said.

79 Responses to this article

  1. Roger Thorne / August 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    A recent Los Angeles Times article by Evan Halper gave a very myopic, negative, and erroneous view of the 2700 drug courts throughout this country. Mr. Halper uses one lawyer’s criticisms regarding one drug court participant in one particular drug court as an indictment of all drug courts. With that logic, if one local reporter at the Birmingham News wrote an article in which he made up quotations, pretended to be at scenes, and plagiarized from other sources, then all reporters at all newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, would be suspect. Wait, that did happen at the New York Times when a reporter in the recent past did all these things and more (see Jayson Blair). Does that mean all reporters and all newspapers are suspect? Of course not. All the journalists I personally know hold themselves to a high ethical journalistic standard. The same high ethical standard is true of most drug court professionals.

    The purpose of Mr. Halper’s article was to point out the schizophrenic way the federal government and the states treat marijuana. No one can deny that, but using drug courts to make this case is unfair. Individual states where marijuana is illegal do not have a choice about enforcing existing laws. Neither law enforcement nor the courts have a choice in which laws to enforce. As pointed out in Mr. Halper’s piece, Kansas enforces laws about the illegal possession of marijuana while the neighboring state of Colorado has made possession legal. What alternatives do the Kansas officials have? There is a legitimate debate to be had about making marijuana legal throughout the country, but to disparage officials in states where it is currently illegal is unwarranted. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges have sworn oaths to abide by the laws on the books. A nation of laws cannot ignore current statutes without inviting anarchy. If one wishes to change those laws, there are means to do so, but painting drug courts in a negative light to do so is unjust.

    I will not deny there are probably extreme cases in some courts that are outside of what is considered to be “best practices.” It would be foolish to say otherwise, but to lump all drug courts as the same is as foolish as lumping all reporters into the same category as Jayson Blair.

    The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) and the Alabama Association of Drug Court Professionals (AADCP) has established, based on extensive and exhaustive research, 10 key components of effective drug courts. As a part of this, there is research that points to evidence-based practices where treatment dosage (type of treatment and time spent in treatment) produces the best outcome. For more information about this go to:

    http://www.nadcp.org/sites/default/files/nadcp/Research%20Update%20on%20Adult%20Drug%20Courts%20-%20NADCP_1.pdf

    Mr. Halper feels that the majority of participants in drug courts do not need the amount of treatment they receive. It is true that research shows that it is counter-productive for participants who are a low risk to reoffend or relapse to receive too much dosage (type and time in treatment.) As a result, the Adult Felony Drug Court in Jefferson County, Alabama has established a series of tracks based upon a participant’s likelihood to reoffend or relapse by utilizing an evidenced-based Risks/Needs Assessment tool. As a result, a participant charged with a felony possession of marijuana more likely than not will be in the shortest track which requires three months of participation. In that time, they must attend a 20 hour drug use education class and perform 25 hours of community service. If they are compliant, they never even have to come back to court for a review. In the Adult Misdemeanor Drug Court, a marijuana possession charge will result in either a 12 hour or 24 hour drug education class based upon the participants needs. These are not draconian measures and are based on research and evidence-based practices.

    Another point of Mr. Halper’s is based on an assertion by John Roman from the Urban Institute who alleges that those most in need of treatment are not accepted into drug courts. Neither Mr. Halper nor Mr. Roman give empirical evidence to support this claim. In the Adult Felony Drug Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, 81% of our 285 participants have a risk or need factor of moderate to high which means that without intervention they are likely to either relapse and/or commit another crime. Forty-nine percent of participants have a diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence. It seems this drug court accepts those in need.

    Mr. Halper and the Los Angeles Times owe an apology for painting all drug courts in a negative light to forward an argument for legalizing marijuana. His argument is biased, based on limited input, and almost completely untrue except in some circumstances. No evidence was presented to show his allegations are widespread. The apology should not be made to the judges and staffs of the hundreds of drug courts across the country. The apology should be made to the thousands of participants who are benefiting from the vast majority of drug courts which are operating in an ethical way, using best practices.

  2. Ernie Glenn / August 11, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    With ten years of service to the Bexar County District Courts’ Felony Drug Court under my belt in San Antonio, TX, all I can say is that if there is any truth in this article, then things are awfully different in Harlem than here! We normally have 250 or more high risk/needs participants in our program at any given time who are addicted to heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, any number and type of pills (xanax and hydrocodone are very popular), alcohol, etc., but rarely do we admit anyone who only uses marijuana. Sure, quite a number of our folks do use pot, but then again, poly-substance abuse is more the rule than the exception! Add to that the fact that 40% or more of our clients have mental illnesses and self medicate, and try to find an easy case (low hanging fruit) in the bunch! We also have programs for misdemeanor offenders with multiple Intoxicated Driving offenses, those with Mental Illness, for Veterans, and other addicted offenders, but I have no idea where there exists a Drug Court that handles “cherry picked” cases…

  3. Marianne Carniak / August 6, 2014 at 8:36 am

    I am not sure where the “Join Together Staff” is getting their information for this article, but if they want the true facts of who qualifies for Drug Courts and how effective they are, any of your staff are more than welcome to contact me. I’ve worked as the primary therapist for a district drug court in Michigan for 4 years, and have many wonderful stories of success involving high risk heroin/opiate addicts, alcoholics, and poly-substance abusers. Only one client was primarily a marijuana user with multiple probation violations, who admittedly could not stop on her own and wanted the extra help that regular probation could not provide for her. I stay in touch with her to this day and she has over 3 years clean, not only from marijuana, but has not even picked up a drink nor done any other drug. This article is an insult to me and my team. Please get your story straight and print an update.

  4. Robert Mogar MSW / August 4, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    As a counselor for the Adult drug court program of Flagler County Florida, we have 80% of our drug court clients addicted to pain killers. Due to the epidemic of pain management facilities that had been taken advantage of due to a lack of oversight and regulation the pain pill epidemic in Florida is 200% worse then any other state. Yes the new regulations are in place to resolve this issue, however, the addicts themselves need treatment to get off the pills so they do not turn to other means to support their habit. As this article contends that drug courts ‘cherry pick’ clients; this opinion is uninformed and completely off the mark of truth. There are standards each and every drug court program must adhere to in their selections and this selection is audited. As a matter of fact, the marijuana user is the least likely client I have yet to counsel.

  5. Ken Robinson / August 1, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I lament the implications of this article and the damage it might cause within the Specialty Courts movement. Program participants actually reflect the backbone or agendas of the gatekeepers. Drug Courts are only for chemically dependent people who are trying unsuccessfully to deal with their addictions. They were never designed for casual drug users. While serving as Adult Drug Court Coordinator in Pima County, AZ, I often felt the disdain of other probation officers trying to get individuals accepted into Drug Court, when myself or my officers found them inappropriate for the program. We published and distributed selection criteria, but it was still a weekly occurrence to have officers or attorneys calling or trying to make a case for unqualified people to be admitted anyway. It is true that success rates would have gone up with “graduates” that should have not been there in the first place. My burden was for fidelity of the program. It still is. Now as Specialty Courts Coordinator in Madison County, AL, I am regularly engaged in dialogues with Judges and Coordinators gently steering the programs toward best practices. I affirm the efforts of Coordinators who have left comments above. I especially affirm the Drug Court graduates who have commented, and have gone on to become responsible citizens in the community. You are why we do what we do. To those in a position to influence tenets of your programs, please do not let money or personal agendas of your team members undermine adherence to a clean Drug Court model. We can learn from criticisms received through the article, make changes, and get on with the real business of addressing addictions.

    • Melanie Brown / August 4, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      It is important for people, especially those who opt to find employment in the media arena, to conduct research on any certain subject before publishing an article. In America, there is freedom of speech, as we are endowed by our Creator, the Lord Almighty, to be able to communicate or express our opinions in a public manner. For this, I am so thankful!!
      Let us not abuse this!!
      Over the past century this Nation has been trying to veer away from catergorizing or sterotyping people and programs per se. Why then is the media trying to regress and move us back into associating all people or all programs as the “same?”. I say this to let people know that I am not doubting that a specific drug court or one specific substance abuse program looks for the easy way out or choosing the easier to handle clients. This easy road selection is unfortunately present in most all professions. However, do not associate all Drug Court programs, with one or two nonproductive programs. This is regression.
      In Alabama, Drug Courts have proven to be highly successful in comparison to prison or non treatment based sentencing. Additionally, many Drug courts in Alabama are Felony Drug Courts, therefore simple thc cases would not constitute as the majority of the charges entered Furthermore, if a Drug Court is conducted as protocol outlines it to be, only addicts are admitted into drug court….not casual users. I find the published article to be unfounded, unsupported, not completely researched, and quite frankly borderline slander in the respect of the Drug Court Arena.
      To the author of the article, I am sorry that your experience or limited research left you to this incorrect and unfounded conclusion that Drug Courts seek the easy way out. However, as a writer I encourage you to further your research, assess or reassess some other Drug Courts, and then make an opinion as to how you feel about drug courts.
      Drug Courts work, not for everybody – not in every case; but they do work.
      I hope you have a Blessed day.
      Thanks,
      Melanie

  6. Nan Ball / July 31, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    As a Coordinator for an Adult Drug Court and as a counselor I have worked in both Juvenile, Family Preservation and Adult Drug Courts I have observed an increase in the clients screened and assessed for Drug Court Treatment Programs who are Polysubstance dependent. Often marijuana is a “co-occurring” drug of abuse. Nearly 90% of my clients both past and present are also alcohol dependent or abusers who have had at least 1 DWI and another Possession Charge related to Cocaine, Methamphetamine or Prescription Opiates. There is a huge increase in the number of offenders who are not only abusing multiple illegal substances but who are using Buprenorphine illegally to stave off withdrawal from their preferred opiate of choice or finding that Buprenorphine can get them a more desired high. The other 10% are composed of individuals who say they use only marijuana but the drug tests show otherwise. Most are unemployed at the time of screening or are under-employed due to their inability to keep employment because of drug or alcohol use or other criminal activity or lack of motivation to seek legitimate employment. One of the issues I see coming is with the push to legitimize, decriminalize – legalize marijuana is the renaissance – (increase) I suspect we will see in adolescent use of marijuana and alcohol because they think weed is somehow okay even in jurisdictions where only “adults” may legally purchase and consume the drug. I have never admitted any client to a Drug Court Program who was just a “casual user”.

  7. Janet Johnson / July 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I am the drug court treatment provide for the 7th circuit. I saddened by how this article is not true. It is because of drug court, the addicts are able to get the help they need. Serious ….. Well, I believe we take the broken. It’s not what happened, it is HOW CAN WE HELP. I urge the writer of this article to come join in for pre trial hearings and see what it is really about

  8. Cyndi Gleason / July 31, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I am a graduate of Drug Court in La Crosse, WI. Tomorrow, will be 3 years clean for me. I was accepted to the Drug Court Treatment Program as an alternative to revocation. At the time, I was facing several years in prison on multiple felony charges for possession of methamphetamine. While participating in the program, it was ordered that I attend treatment weekly, participate in a 12 step program and get a sponsor, to obtain full-time employment, and to maintain sobriety. When I agreed to take part in Drug Court, I was simply looking for a way out of jail and to avoid the prison sentence that I was facing. I think many other participants of the program would say the same thing. For the first several months I managed to hide my continued use of alcohol and drugs. Because of the way this program works, it was only a matter of time before the truth came out. When it did, I was able to get honest with everyone, including myself. I could no longer deny my addiction. Through the ordered treatment, I was able to learn that drug use was simply a symptom of my disease of addiction. I learned how to take a new approach on life and how to cope with problems and feelings. Drugs has always been how i coped in the past. Through the ordered participation in a 12 step program, I was able to connect with people who understood where I was coming from and were not using drugs. Instead of returning to associating with old “friends,” I was able to form healthy relationships. More importantly, I was introduced to resources that could continue to provide me with the the help and support I have needed to stay clean since completing Drug Court. And, all of that is just a glimpse at what Drug Court did to contribute to my being clean. Since Drug Court, I’ve been able to regain custody, and a relationship, with my daughter and other members. I returned to college last fall and made the President’s List both terms. This past Christmas, my boyfriend and I got engaged. He’s also a graduate of Drug Court, and has maintained sobriety since his completed it in 2012. He’s now a college graduate, and, for the first time in his adult life, is off of probation. Our son and my daughter have a bright future ahead of them. Both of us are grateful to say that, and know, in part, Drug Court has contributed.
    Not everyone who participates in the Drug Court Treatment Court succeeds. I believe it truly depends on each individuals desire to change. However, I know from my own experience, that I may have never learned how to live different if it wasn’t for the support and resources provided to me through Drug Court. Drugs, whether it’s methamphetamine, heroin, or marijuana, can destroy a person inside and out. To deprive anyone of the second chance that can be available through this program would be devastating to other’s suffering from chemical abuse issues. If I had not received the help when I did, it’s likely that I would not be alive today.

  9. Beth Coombs / July 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I am so sad to read this as I know first hand drug court saves lives. I graduated drug court in 1997 and am still clean and sober. I was facing serious prison time and could not stop using. Today I am not only clean but guess what??? I pay TAXES! I am blessed to be a productive member of society and I also work constantly to give back to the community I live in and beyond by helping others suffering from addiction on a volunteer basis. I have seen many lives saved due to drug court and an saddened when I see articles such as this stating that drug courts don’t work because I know THEY DO!

  10. Anne Patton / July 31, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I have been a Drug Court coordinator and case manager for 8 years. Our Drug Court never takes low risk/low needs offenders; it certainly might be nice but that is not how we operate. We follow the guidelines and research from NADCP and the NDCI. We know that Drug Courts typically do not work for low risk or low need offenders; in fact we know that if a low risk/need person is in Drug Court it could “make them worse” or in other words, increase recidivism. We screen all potential referrals using a validated risk and needs assessment tool. They also must have an alcohol and drug assessment finding them drug dependent; collaterals are used in this assessment. Every participant in our Drug Court has been assessed as high risk and high needs. We have denied admission to potential candidates who’s only identified drug of choice is marijuana. In this region of the country we are struggling with a growing heroin and methamphetamine problem. Over the last several years the number of over doses have increased dramatically in our county.

  11. Rob Schroeder / July 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    This is truly disturbing. In fact, it is an outage! I myself an a drug court graduate. I can tell you right now I was not too interested in selling and smoking a little weed. However, heroin (opiates) and cocaine were always a go. Drug court helped me to avoid a long prison sentence,
    build new relationships, repair some old ones and teach me how to become a productive citizen. I literally outer my life to this program! How dare some ignorant twit think they can say something about something do great! Thoroughly disguisted!

  12. wendy trott / July 31, 2014 at 10:25 am

    I am the Drug Court Coordinator for a Drug Court in Alabama. We currently have 70 participants in our program and only have 1 person who has pled into our program for marijuana. The majority of our participants use Meth, Spice or prescription drugs. I feel that we do take on the serious hard core addicts. And not all succeed. But the majority of the ones who do succeed do great in society upon completion. We only have a recidivism rate of 16% who reoffend after successful completion. It is less expensive to participant’s to plead into Drug Court than it is if they were to plead guilty and pay the court costs. It costs the taxpayers a lot less money because the drug court participants become law abiding citizens and get jobs, pay taxes,get custody of their children back and out of the system, stay out of jail or prison and most of all contribute to society in a positive way. Our Drug Court program wants to help these people with their problem not just take their money. We would gladly invite anyone to come and examine our programs here in Alabama because we are really helping people and changing lives in a good way.

  13. Kelly / July 31, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I am very disappointed in Join Together for posting this story. The L.A. Times article is highly prejudicial and is simply not supported by the decades of research on the subject.

  14. Cindy McCoy / July 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

    The focus here should be to utilize resources on defendant’s who have a high risk to re offend. In the Grant County, Indiana, Drug Court we serve felony offenders. 53.2% of participants are high risk and 11% are very high risk. Less than 2% of participants were assessed as low risk.

  15. Ashley R / July 31, 2014 at 2:03 am

    As a current drug court participant in WV, I have to say this is completely untrue. I was a high risk client, but I was still accepted. I used everything I could find, & the majority of the clients are just like me. Drug courts are really making a difference in people’s lives. It’s definitely not a cakewalk to get through the program. Some people don’t make it, but don’t minimize the accomplishments of the ones that do by implying that we weren’t addicted to hard drugs.

  16. Steven Trenholme / July 31, 2014 at 12:19 am

    I have been a public defender in a Drug Court in Butte County, California, for sixteen years. The assertion that Drug Courts cherry-pick marijuana users is completely untrue in the court in which I am involved. We have 100 people in our program at any one time. Not a single one of them is there for a marijuana infraction. Most of my clients started using methamphetamine in their early teens. Many have served multiple prison terms. Most had been using methamphetamine on a daily basis prior to entering Drug Court. Many have significant mental health problems. 100% of my clients have committed felony offenses. 100% of my clients are sentenced to prison if they fail to participate in Drug Court. There is no question that Drug Court has literally saved the lives of hundreds of people that I have represented over the past sixteen years, and has kept hundreds of them out of prison.

  17. William Wells / July 30, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I must add my voice to those decrying the absurd and irresponsible allegations given voice by the LA Times and Join Together. I have been working in drug courts since 2004. I am currently the Program Coordinator for the Dubois County Drug Court in Jasper, Indiana.

    High Risk & High Needs are the first considerations when screening a prospective program participant.

    High Needs: We take people who are addicts – people who are substance dependent, not substance abusers. There are other programs for those that are in early-to-mid progression of a substance-related problem. Many of those programs designed for earlier intervention are highly effective. We focus on individuals with an advanced substance abuse problem. Drug courts are for the relatively few who do not respond to other programming.

    High Risk: We focus on participants who are most likely to reoffend. Our prime candidate is the individual who is not likely to successfully complete other forms of supervision. There are well-researched and scientifically validated tools to measure that risk level. These judgments are not arbitrary, although the article might leave that impression.

    When I present a drug court candidate to the rest of the drug court team in my county, the first things we talk about are whether the individual meets the high risk, high needs criteria. If we have an addict (high needs) with a corresponding low likelihood to successfully complete community supervision (high risk), then we probably have a great drug court candidate.

    Our participants’ drug of choice is primarily methamphetamine, prescription medications, and alcohol.

  18. Shane Fairman / July 30, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    This article is a VERY WRONG one!!! Whoever wrote it is out of touch with how the Drug Court System works and obviously knows nothing about it or very little. I have been down the darkest of roads, used many different substances, was using at the age of 12, and spent almost 17 years in and out of Juvenile hall,Jails, and Prison!! They were never a deterrent for me as I just didn’t care about doing time. That was easy!!!! I once hated life and all to do with it and never figured I would live past my 20′s with how I used and lived. When released from prison, I was 3 days out and already using, and dealing! Got re-arrested and released on Drug Court a month later. I still had no plans on changing who I was at the time nor the knowledge of how to do so. A week later I started using/drinking and on that night I was pulled over in a bad area of Butte Co. I fully advised the officer that I was on Parole, Felony Drug Court Probation, Drunk, High, had possession on my person, and basically just to take me. That night was Nov 17, 2008, and that was to this day my last time I have ever used or drank any substance!!! I was not placed back into prison like I wanted, I was challenged, educated, taught how to live sober, driven harder than I had ever thought I could’ve to accomplish goals, and had a full network of people that cared and helped me to become who I am today. I am 35 years old and have the best life, family, friends, and am SOBER! I graduated the Drug Court Program SUCCESSFULLY and have the skills that were taught to me from all the team of Drug Court, AA,NA, and my Network. Everything that I ever lost I have earned back ten fold, I have repaid my debts, and am a productive citizen. This article that I read actually upset me a little, so far from the truth. I am a living statistic and a product of what Drug Court can do, I beat all odds and never gave up. There is so much more that I can write about my life and how Drug Court changed my life that I could write a book. Above all Drug Court taught me something that I personally consider what makes a man and that is INTEGRITY!! Someday my goal is to be a part of the Drug Court Team/Probation and help Change and Save Lives such as my Own. This Program isn’t about little petty offenders, it’s a whole lot more. Thank You

  19. Jonathan Kirk / July 30, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    I was a meth head. when i left the service i was 235lbs solid muscle. soon after i was introduced to meth where i lost 80lbs and my skin was jaundice. I had been a meth user for several years before being arrested for possession of meth and ecstasy. Soon after my arrest my lawyer present the idea of Drug Court. She told me it was an opportunity at a second chance and may be able to clean up my life. Though I was very skeptical i decided to give it a go. At first with the random drug screens and group sessions is was difficult to get used to. But after a few months i got into the routine and started to listen to everyone’s stories and accept the help that was being offered. For a little while i thought the drug court people were only in it for the money and thought it was a joke. But when i started DC i had only been clean for a month or so. Drug Court opened my mind by introducing me to Narcotics Anonymous which has been the most influential part of my recovery. Drug Court with all their tools helped me realize that my life was worth more than just a quick high and a life of crime. i graduated DC 18 months after i started on December 10, 2010. I continue to live a clean and productive life. When i started DC i was homeless living in my car, single, and barely working enough to afford food. Now after experiencing the life saving, life changing opportunity that Drug Court provided to me i have been married now for 3 1/2 years with 2 amazing children. I have been at my job for 3 years now and have my own house. i was headed down a road to death when i entered DC now i owe my life to them. So to say that DC is only for cherry picked marijuana users is completely absurd.

  20. Tiffany Ryherd / July 30, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Drug court has helped me tremendously! I was addicted to crack, meth I’ve done herione. Im now clean one year and 2 months now, for the first time in my life. I owe it Drug court and most of all my self. The people that are in Drug court with me are all on there for hard drugs not just marijuana..

  21. Phil Breitenbucher / July 30, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    While I agree that Drug Courts need to expand, or go to scale, to better meet the demands of those in need (like Texas has done), I completely disagree that Drug Courts are generally “cherry picking” or taking low risk cases.

    As the Director of the National Family Drug Court Training and Technical Assistance Program, I have the opportunity to provide consultation and oversight to Family Drug Courts (which this author completely ignores) across the country.

    Family Drug Courts seek to provide safe environments for children with intensive judicial monitoring and interventions to treat parental substance use disorders and other co-occurring risk factors. There are currently more than 346 Family Drug Courts that serve more than 19,000 families annually across the nation. Compared to individual treatment systems alone, Family Drug Courts’ positive outcomes include significantly higher rates of parental participation in substance abuse treatment, longer stays in treatment, higher rates of family reunification and less time for children in foster care. A multi-site study of Family Drug Courts, with over 20 sites, found that the parents entering these programs were more likely to have had prior histories with child protective services, more likely to be using methamphetamine, more likely to be pregnant and less likely to be employed than parents entering other treatment programs. Families served in these programs are often referred to as the most difficult cases to serve. National data indicates that substance abuse is the second leading cause for termination of parental rights, which often means long term stays in foster care for children at a high cost to the taxpayer and to the child’s right to grow up in a safe and stable home.

    Drug Courts are a critical strategy of national prison reform and child welfare reform, and they need to continue to expand and tackle the toughest cases, just as study after study shows they do!

    Phil Breitenbucher is the Director of the National Family Drug Court Training and Technical Assistance Program, and the Co-Founder and Vice President of the California Collaborative Justice Courts Foundation.

  22. alicia burns / July 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I am a State’s Attorney in Cook County Illinois. I have worked in the Drug Court for almost 17 years now. I have also worked in Mental Health and Veterans Courts for many years. One of my responsibilities is to screen the cases that are directed into these courts. With very few exceptions, the defendants that I direct to these courts have extensive criminal background, albeit nonviolent per statutory requirements. I also will generally not consider someone who does not have significant substance abuse (usually heroin or cocaine) or mental health issues. Without the opportunity to participate in these courts, these defendants would, without question, be headed to the penitentiary. We don’t succeed with everyone, but for many these programs are life altering. Maybe some jurisdictions “cherry pick” their cases to inflate their success rates, but we don’t and can’t. The stakes are just too high.

  23. Joseph McCarville / July 30, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    As a judge who founded and still serves in a Drug Court, I am aware of the effort that is made by the National Drug Court Institute to make sure that we all are following “Best Practices” and we know what a legitimate Drug Court looks like. The author of this article has embarrassed the Los Angeles Times by demonstrating ignorance of what a normal Adult Drug Court looks like and failing to recognize that the sources quoted are unaware of the standards that are being maintained by the overwhelming majority of all drug courts. Specifically, the author failed to recognize that we target High Risk (people most likely to fail on supervision and go to prison) and High Needs (people with the hardest to treat addictions) to the exclusion of the people who can be successful with low intensity treatment and supervision programs. We do not pad our numbers. We measure our success in terms of not numbers of participants but rather reduction of risk and increased community safety.

    • Judge Richard Ginkowski / July 31, 2014 at 2:22 am

      Judge McCarville makes good points. Allow me to add that guidelines are just that — guidelines. When I was drug court prosecutor I cleared some potential candidates whose cases did not neatly fit into the grid. Sometimes a person’s record on paper sounds worse than it is. On the flip side, there are candidates who have yet to accumulate those stats but they are well on the way. I recall fighting to admit some young heroin addicts who were so out of control that they were headed for the morgue if we didn’t do something immediately. Much of this, as Judge McCarville notes, is about risk assessment

  24. Leana Davison / July 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I must take the time to STRONGLY disagree with this article! My life was FOREVER CHANGED because of the Drug Treatment Court in Kalamazoo, MI! Before Drug Court, I had served almost 11 YEARS in prison! I was a stumbling drug addict of the WORST kind for 20 YEARS before I finally committed a crime in a city with a Drug Treatment Court! I was the worst of the worst felon and drug addict! This was my 7th felony conviction that got me in the the Treatment Court. Drug Court does NOT take the easy cases! My prognosis before Drug Court was death! Nothing else worked for me, not jail, not prison, not probation, not parole, not treatment! DRUG TREATMENT COURT SAVED MY LIFE! I was a homeless, drug addicted prostitute before drug court. Today I am an acceptable, responsible member of society with a good job and a beautiful family! I was sentenced to the program on June 26, 2006 and I have been clean and sober from all drugs and alcohol since that day…and I have never seen another pair of handcuffs after 20 years of direction supervision of the DOC! PRAISE GOD FOR DRUG COURTS!!!!!!!!! Tell the TRUTH about them!

  25. Kathleen / July 30, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    As a drug court judge for 5 years, I can verify that, thus far, every one of our participants in our post-plea drug court is facing a prison sentence if they do not successfully complete. Most of our participants are heroin addicts and drug court is a chance to change (and often save) their lives. Our drug court program is not an easy program to successfully complete and requires a great deal from the participant. While there have been some participants who failed to successfully complete and therefore had to serve their prison sentence, there are others who have used this court as an opportunity to truly change their lives. Perhaps there are some drug courts who are only accepting low risk/low need defendants, but that certainly has not been my experience.

  26. G. Frederick White / July 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve been a drug court prosecutor for about 15 years and I wish the people who wrote this article would take a practical, common sense view on this issue. I participate in drug court because it is in my office’s best interests for me to do so. Getting someone off drugs is nice and all from a humanitarian perspective, but when that person gets clean and sober, I win too. So when I admit someone into drug court, I have a few real world, practical goals in mind. I want to get something out of the deal too — aside from altruism. When I admit someone, I ask myself: will this person being in drug court 1. lessen my colleagues’ overwhelming caseloads; 2. prevent my police officers from arresting the same people over and over; 3. save time, money, and other resources; or 3. reclaim these defendants that nobody wants anymore and turn them into productive citizens who get jobs, support their kids, and pay taxes? My key point is that I serve none of these goals if I admit “easy” clients into drug court since in all likelihood, these easy clients will never enter the system again anyway. I only get my benefit if I admit “difficult” clients. Get them clean and my office will never have to deal with them again. Nothing else makes sense in a day-to-day framework. So the idea that, as a prosecutor, I would want to only let easy defendants into drug court is simply wrong.

  27. Russell Whitehead / July 30, 2014 at 10:27 am

    I am a graduate of the Tulsa Veterans Treatment Court. Upon entering the treatment court I was charged with my 2nd and 3rd DUI’s and was facing prison time. Without the courts I would probably still be in prison some 2 and a half years later.

  28. Virginia Phillips / July 30, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Yes, drug court participants must be non-violent, arresstees the first or second time for the offense, and willing participants. They must stop now before recidivism into the penitentiary.

  29. Robert Owens / July 30, 2014 at 10:12 am

    The piece in the LA Times had a lot of opinions, but very few numbers. The article provides no support for the claim that “in many areas, those charged with marijuana possession are the single largest group of offenders sent to drug-court treatment programs.” It is unfair to suggest there are systemic problems with drug courts based on the anecdotal evidence cited in the article. I am currently working on an evaluation of drug courts in a western state. The data I have collected show that drug court offenders are of similar risk levels as offenders who end up in treatment-while-incarcerated programs, and that drug court offenders have risk levels significantly higher than offenders on probation. The Best Practice Standards (http://www.nadcp.org/sites/default/files/nadcp/AdultDrugCourtBestPracticeStandards.pdf) clearly state that drug court is intended for high-risk and high-need offenders. Drug courts also have to balance the need for public safety when considering who should be allowed to remain in the community to receive treatment. This is a difficult balancing act for sure. Drug courts work hard to maintain the right target population.
    A similar article could be written citing stories of individuals allowed into drug court who then committed serious crimes. The argument could be made that drug courts allow offenders to remain in the community who pose serious threats to public safety and should be incarcerated. Using opinion and anecdote anyone can make any argument they want for or against drug courts. Let’s see some real numbers from the over 2,700 drug courts.

  30. Mike Vidallier / July 30, 2014 at 10:01 am

    After reading the article one thing seems to come to mind. The writer seems to have cherry-picked the sources of information. “In many areas of the country…”, Geez, can you get more vague? I can only speak from 16 years of experience in our jurisdiction. In 1998 we tested for 4 drugs of abuse. In 2014, our testing program encompasses 12 different drugs with options to test for at least 4 more. The drug problem in our jurisdiction has evolved beyond anything we could have imagined. Do we have marijuana users in drug court? Of course. But the vast majority of our clients are abusing methamphetamine, cocaine, pharmaceuticals and alcohol. One-third of them have co-occurring disorders which require our assistance and resources as well. To suggest that drug courts (as a whole) favor low-risk, low maintenance clients over more difficult and challenging cases is insulting. We typically get the cases nobody wants and who can’t afford their own treatment. We work with them. We see terrific things happen in people who were previously regarded as hopeless. I too am disappointed in JoinTogether’s willingness to publish such a poorly constructed and researched cheap shot.

  31. Andrew Kessler / July 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Drug treatment in the United States has made tremendous progress in recent years, and the recent attention given to the problem of addiction by both the media and policy makers is a welcome change. However, treatment, in all forms, is a constantly evolving field. Whether we are addressing drug courts, medication assisted treatments, cognitive therapy, or any other aspect of treatment, there will be successes, and there will be setbacks. We need continued research and data if we are to filter out what protocols are unsuccessful from what is successful, regardless of the setting. I have heard and read stories of the tremendous and success of drug courts, yet if there are concerns about the system, those concerns should be taken seriously, and need to be discussed and analyzed. No system- whether based in a public health system or a judicial one- is perfect. What we need to strive for, however, is to make these systems as efficient and effective as possible. That can only be done through increased research and studies.

  32. Patricia Sams / July 30, 2014 at 9:55 am

    This is ridiculous. John Roman, who claims to study Drug Courts, apparently has done his research from a bench at the park. Mr. Roman, if you want a factual study with truthful results there are more than 2400 Drug Courts operating throughout the United States….Get out of your safe zone, go into these communities, visit the participants. If you ask the Drug Court Team and the participants if the only mind altering substance they use is the drug they had in possession at the time of arrest is the only drug they use…your study would be more factual. If you are going to claim results, Know your topic. Addiction is not discriminative.

  33. Holly Dye / July 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Drug Courts were created to provide intensive supervision and treatment opportunities to those unable to make it on traditional probation. I must agree with Helen that a majority of offenders are addicted to harder drugs including methamphetamine and now heroin. Even the younger users who often cite marijuana as the way they began using drugs in high school have moved on to heroin or opiates by the time they reach their early twenties. As jboside mentioned, this article makes it seem that marijuana offenses are being used to stock Drug Courts and to improve outcomes. Anyone who has worked with drug courts–and certainly analysis of program participant histories and outcomes will know this is certainly not the case in all courts. If some courts have attempted to select clients they believe will succeed, they are not following the evidence based recommendations that suggest high risk/high need clients do best. Drug Courts offer a last chance for those whose future would certainly otherwise result in death or years in prison for theft, burglary, forgery, fraud–other crimes that were committed as a means to support addiction. It is a rare thing for someone to get drug court based solely on drug charges.

  34. T. J. Hardin / July 30, 2014 at 9:41 am

    It’s clear that this article was written by someone who has only visited a couple of drug courts and found them displeasing. It misses many important facts.The truth is there are over 2,400 drug courts in the country and they all are built on the demographic of their region. In some areas marijuana may be more prevelant but it is not at all the only drug that is encountered. Drug Courts take on every drug addiction, ranging from marijuana to cocaine to heroin/opiates. No one is turned down because of their level of addiction. Drug Court programs are designed to be intensive for those who are more strongly addicted. Also, in the Drug Court in my region, the treatment (both addiction and co-occuring mental health if needed) are covered by the program. This gives offenders a chance to receive treatment that they might not otherwise get because of financial hardships through Drug Court. Drug Court helps people learn to relive their lives without drugs and it teaches them to be accountable for their actions. Drug Courts work!!

  35. Joni S / July 30, 2014 at 9:34 am

    As a member of the NADCP AND a member of our local court panel, I would say this article is right.
    Our programs cannot take anyone with violent offenses or mental health issues or, or, or…
    It’s no wonder we report a high success rate.
    If you want to praise someone, praise the local counties’ misdemeanor compliance programs when THEIR clients successfully complete probation. Those programs don’t have a choice as to which offenders they take.
    When you set the criteria so strict and rigid, it’s no wonder there is a high success rate.
    I am not saying I don’t like drug courts. If I did, I wouldn’t be a part.
    I am saying that I am realistic,

    • Judge Richard Ginkowski / July 31, 2014 at 2:04 am

      I understand the frustration expressed here. Most drug courts have limited resources. Many rely heavily on the willingness of team members who more of less “donate” time and resources. A key component of any successful drug court is the participation of the eight multidisciplinary team members which in turn requires respect for their respective roles. A prosecutor who does not believe in treatment would be a poor choice as would a public defender who does not embrace accountability.

      In a typical model the prosecutor acts as the “gatekeeper” and wisely so. Unlike the other members of the team, generally only the prosecutor and the judge are directly accountable to the people. While some violent offenders could benefit from drug court programs it must be understood that while there is no “I” in “team” there is also a vested interest in those who have stuck their political and personal necks out to participate in what some people perceive as “hug-a-thug” (despite substantial evidence to the contrary). We who have done that did so because we recognized the importance of drug court intervention BUT also must balance risk assessments into the process. If a violent offender admitted to the program commits a violent crime then it reflects negatively on the entire drug court and understandably could erode public confidence and support thereby endangering the opportunity for other worthy candidates to participate in the program. The law and public policy places the responsibility for public safety and accountability as well as justice in the hands of prosecutors and judges who are periodically answerable to the people for the discharge of their duties. A social worker, therapist or public defender does not have to worry about the ramifications of a bad investment.

      Admitting the wrong candidates do not assist the overall mission of drug courts. In the four years I spent as a drug court prosecutor before being elected to the bench I can tell you that I considered each case individually because the guidelines are often inadequate. Occasionally someone whose criminal history on paper sounded worse that it really was got admitted. Similarly someone who may appear “low risk” on paper (because they have yet to rack up the conviction history) but is a walking time bomb in the community may also have been admitted because there are more red flags in his or her case than at a Communist Party picnic. I have seen some very young heroin addicts who were on their way to the morgue be saved because of this intervention.

      The people with multiple treatment needs also present a challenge. It’s not a matter of “cherry picking” but rather that the client’s needs are often greater than what drug courts can provide. Unfortunately despite all the good drug courts do the reality is that it is an investment of a significant amount of scarce resources in a very small number of cases. It is imperative that those resources be allocated where they have the likelihood of doing the most good which usually excludes first offenders because it’s overkill, violent offenders because of the risk to the community and the potential to undermine the entire drug court program and persons whose treatment needs exceed the capabilities of the program. Indeed it is possible that some otherwise deserving people can be excluded but more often that not it is necessarily so.

      What is disturbing about your comment is that there appears to be on your team a confusion over the roles and responsibilities of the members and/or a lack of respect for them. When this happens it is unfortunate because it can undermine the effectiveness of the drug court and endanger the survival of the program. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

      • Judge Richard Ginkowski / July 31, 2014 at 2:15 am

        I neglected to mention that sometimes prosecutors in the gatekeeping function will decline to clear a potential candidate because they have access to confidential information that others do not, i.e., that the candidate may be under investigation or about to be charged for participation in additional crimes. It was very difficult in these cases to fully explain the rationale for denial without potentially jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.

  36. Joni Mead / July 30, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I just want to say WRONG! We have drug court here in Reno County Kansas and I feel safe in saying the majority of our members/offenders have issues with methamphetamines or opiates. We take a firm stance of high risk high need for the clients accepted in our program. I would be interested in where these “facts” are coming from for the article. Maybe a broader scope of research into the topic would benefit the writer and especially the readers!
    Look again! Check deeper! Keep an open mind to the possibilities!

  37. Lisa Mooty / July 30, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Well, that is news to me! If that was the case then we would only have five clients in our PTI program. In fact our Post-Plea and PTI programs are mostly clients with high risk/high needs with some sort of trauma and/or significant co-occurring disorders. Frankly, many have already been on probation and prison and yet here they are again, so it is easy to see that the old way didn’t work and evidence base practices are the future. DRUG COURTS WORK!

  38. Patricia Jones Joplin / July 30, 2014 at 7:57 am

    I spent years in active drug addiction. In 2007, I was arrested for Possession with Intent to Sell Cocaine, a felony. I was NOT a drug dealer, but that was a way to support my addiction. They offered me drug treatment court, I accepted. I spent approximately one year in this program and it changed my life. I am still in recovery, married, raising a family, returned to school and now work as a substance abuse counselor in NC. Drug Court did not pick me and I was not a marijuana smoker. I am not the only one here in Charlotte, there are many people that have had life changes as a direct result of Drug Court that had charges similar to mine. To say they (Drug Courts) pick certain people is just not true.

    • Brandon Knoblauch / August 1, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      Here are some problems (as I see them):
      -Violent criminals would benefit most, but are usually not admitted
      -Drug courts do not have a significant benefit to society in the long term
      -Small sample sizes and individual differences in courts make studies hard to do
      -Much data collected relies heavily on the drug court participant self-reporting
      -The individual courts do not collect long-term data on the success of the program, but rather on graduations vs. non-graduations and this is a motive for taking on lesser type crimes or first time offenders to make their numbers look good for political reasons instead of attempting to help those who may fail, but who would benefit the most if they were to succeed.

      In my opinion our government, outside researchers along with regular people should educate themselves about what Drug Courts do and the funding that they receive and then the Drug Courts should be accountable with participant data on what kinds of offenses, drugs used, how many previous arrests (if any), what the previous offenses were, and then track the participants after they graduate for a minimum of 2-3 years and collect that data, have an outside non-partisan research team go through it, and then make the results available for public viewing. If the Courts continue how they are, it seems to me that there is no motivation for them to take on “high-risk” participants. So this story makes sense to me. I would encourage all of the people who spoke out against what this article is about to look into facts and statistics before they comment on how untrue the article is.

      If you are one of the amazing people that commented on how you were a participant (hopefully graduated and remained sober despite overwhelming odds against you) and had a drug of choice that wasn’t Marijuana, I would ask you to think about your time there and a rough number of how many of the other participants in your program were there for Marijuana charges and then comment on that number.

      I’m anxious to hear from you, the participants. Government has a job to do. The courts have a job to do. You, the participants, are the ones who have the most knowledge as to the credibility of this story. Though you may not have been there for Marijuana, I ask you to write in with how many of your peers were there for that reason. If you were there for Marijuana, same question for you.

      I personally believe in collaborative courts and the idea of treatment vs. incarceration. Many people who are currently in our jails and prisons have either previously been diagnosed with mental illness, or are found to have undiagnosed mental illness while incarcerated and our society has no where else to “house” these individuals or “treat” them with medication, counseling, etc. So in some ways incarceration is the only way that these people can get the treatment that they need. Unfortunately, when they are released, there is no more monitoring of their medication (which is sometimes expensive and impossible for the individuals to get) and so these people end up re-offending and back in jail where treatment is once again available to them.

      Most of my comments were made as a result of reading the Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE). The results from the MADCE came to this conclusion:

      “Conclusion
      In this analysis, we created a single aggregate variable at the individual level to incorporate all measured outcomes. By doing so, we estimate a single individual’s total impact on society and can statistically test the effects of drug court and other characteristics on that impact. Findings suggest that the average drug court participant still does more harm to society than benefit. However, participating in drug court appears to lower this harm by between $5,600 and $6,200 per participant. This difference, though, is not statistically significant. This is due mainly to the considerable variation in outcomes. We note that additional tests, including the Wilcoxon Rank Sum Test, suggest that there is a positive benefit of drug court, even if the aggregate net benefits are not significantly different. We also note that although the largest outliers are all within the comparison group, removal of these outliers does not meaningfully change our results.

      Thus, we are left to conclude that drug courts—while effective at reducing costly criminal offending—are also expensive enough to offset those costs.

      Drug court increases many costs, notably drug treatment, halfway house usage, and court-related monitoring by substantial amounts.

      Drug courts do not appear to have much of an effect on resources in two areas where big benefits are possible—improved labor market participation and health. While drug court improves outcomes on both measures, neither improvement is statistically significant.

      Even the crime improvements are not particularly robust: when a small number of outliers are removed (whose costs are mainly from the commission of serious crimes), most of the benefit of drug court disappears.

      We interpret this as meaning that most of the crime reduction is from reductions in low-level offending, with only a few serious crimes being prevented.

      The main positive finding, however, that drug courts appear to make those who would commit the most serious harms less harmful to society is not a trivial one. Other studies have found that homicide in the United States accounts for roughly half of all the harms from crime (Roman 2009). Thus, reducing a very small number of the most serious crimes would have a substantial impact on net social welfare.”

    • Brandon Knoblauch / August 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Hello Patricia Jones Joplin,

      That’s really great that you’re giving back to society by working as a substance abuse counselor. I’m sure that you have a lot of experience that helps with your work. Yours is an amazing story of success. That is really admirable what you have done and how you changed your life. My sincerest congratulations on your sobriety and life change! You are one of the people that took advantage of all of the resources that Drug Court has to offer and benefited greatly from the experience. Truly an amazing story.

      I am a psychologist and also working with people who have substance abuse issues (some court ordered, some voluntarily). One of your statements in your post raised a question that I was hoping you could clarify for me. I am curious as to why you are stating that you were selling drugs to support your addiction, but that you weren’t a “drug dealer”.

      What is the difference between you selling drugs and a drug dealer selling drugs? What I believe that I am understanding you say is that if your reason for selling drugs is to support your habit/addiction then that is not what you define as a drug dealer. So your motivation for selling drugs is the determining factor as to whether or not you are a drug dealer. Is that correct? Or is it a stigma that the label “drug dealer’ has that you are trying to avoid associating yourself with. I am very interested and I am trying to understand your perspective on this.

      Thank you for sharing your story,
      Brandon

      • Judge Richard Ginkowski / August 11, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        I think the distinction/difference may be that some courts consider a “dealer” as someone selling for a profit as opposed to someone selling to support their own habit.

        Statutorily it’s a distinction without a difference but in many drug courts it is of some significance.

  39. Lani Hadaller / July 29, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    This article makes me furious and I never expected JoinTogether to publish an article so full of uneducated non sense. I have no idea what type of drug court programs you visited to base your information on however, Latah County was not one. This program is intense and has changed the lives of so many addicts who’s drug was anything from Meth, pills, alcohol, marijuiana and all facing lengthy prison sentences. It is however up to the person to let the program work and change their lives or resist treatment and take a rider to prison. To say that drug courts choose less problematic addicts so they have a higher success rate shows that you have no idea about addiction. Please tell me how you can decide what addict is less addicted than the next? YOU CANT!! Addiction is addiction. We all end up losing jobs, family members, self esttem and worth and all end up losing our values and ethics. Some of us are lucky enough to get accepted into drug court and choose to let it work in our lives and others chose prison or death. I feel that every drug court is what the volunteers and patients make it but dont think for a minute that its easy. Please do your research thoroughly before publishing garbage.

  40. Duke Lehto / July 29, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Sorry, we take the heroin, opiate users in our court, the toughest of the tough – Milwaukee County. Come on over and look at our stats, meet our people, we would love to have you stop by and investigate.

  41. Helen Harberts / July 29, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    This article is factually wrong. I expected better from JoinTogether than to reprint this trash. The earliest drug courts may have cherry picked. That is old news. The exclusive target population of drug courts are persons who assess as both high risk AND high needs. In Butte County, CA we have been treating convicted felons who have failed a grant of felony probation, since 1995. @85% are methamphetamine dependent. The rest are pharma or heroin dependent. Most of them have trauma and significant co-occurring disorders. Drug Courts do amazing work with those who previously failed every intervention. Drug Courts work. They save countless lives, save prison beds, and cut crime. We need to expand drug courts, not dilute them and make them available to everyone who needs them. In my view, they are the single greatest criminal justice innovation in recent history. That story was ignorant compost.

  42. Lynn Cox / July 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Hi my name is Lynn Cox.Im 51 years old, I graduated drug court,2 years of hard ass work,And thanks to Cathy, Elizabeth.Probation People,and a judge who really cares and don’t take any shit im a better person now,i work ten hr. days in 100 degree heat,i help everyone I can,thats why im broke but every mourning I look in the mirror and im good with who I see.In DC.ive seen thieves,addicts,every kind of person you can think of,alot make it,some don’t,If we save one life or send one person on the right track then its all been worth it,One person can touch a thousand lives.So all you people who say Drug court waiste money or don’t make a difference come spend a month with me.So you people who say it don’t matter,get off your ass and get involved,go to 7 meetings a week and tree other classes and hold a job with no liceince,IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE,So WTF.

  43. Ron Christian / July 29, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    I am a district manager supervising 7 problem solving courts, including three adult felony drug courts in my state. Before this career, I practiced law for 20 years, including a lot of criminal defense. While I suppose it is possible that some drug courts are not properly focused on the correct population, the drug courts described in this article are completely foreign to anything in our state. We focus on “high-risk/high-need offenders. Most of the people admitted into the drug courts in which I work have more than one drug or alcohol-related felony before they are even considered for admission. The majority are severe addicts who, without help, will die of their addiction. Some do. Marijuana addicts (and yes, there is such a thing) make up a very small percentage of our participants. I also agree with the comment that this article reads like it was ghost written for the Drug Policy Alliance. Why would the DPA oppose drug courts? Because the DPA has one goal – legalization, and drug courts are part of the criminal justice system, not part of the legalization movement. We do not pretend that drugs, including marijuana, are benign. We see first hand the ravages caused by drug and alcohol abuse. We simply take a more pragmatic approach – rather than merely punishing people for being addicts, we offer them help to rehabilitate their lives. It is not easy. Our programs involve a lot more than sitting around talking about living a better life. We make our participants go out and create a better life. We have the highest success rate for the lowest cost to the taxpayer of any program ever before tried in our country. This article is not uninformed; it is dishonest.

  44. G. Chappell / July 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I have worked for 17 years in the Spokane Drug Court and marijuana has not been a major component of substance use diagnosis’for those qualifying. It is like alcohol often abused with the opiates and or methamphetamine in our area. We have a large percentage dual-diagnossed who are not severe enough for the Felony mental Health court but have significant substance use disorders. I sympathise with the systems dealing with other issues mentioned but currently marijuana is a greatly dimenished issue in Washington.

  45. James M. Stillwell / July 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I am the Exec. Dir. of Principles Inc. (DBA) Impact. We were the first drug court in Los Angeles Calif. We now provide treatment to three courts in the L.A. area. In my 41 yrs. in the drug and alcohol field I can only estimate the number of clients who’s primary drug of abuse was marijuana at less than 1%. Our experience has been in direct contrast to the opinions in the Times article, Drug court clients in Los Angeles are thoroughly screamed by a chemical dependency professional and those findings are reviewed by the presiding judge. The long term treatment is made up of rigorous therapy and proven evidence based curriculums. Karate or any other sport or hobby would not be considered as a viable tool for our high risk population. In addition, the Sentenced Offender Drug Court (SODC) in L.A. has expanded the opportunity to treat addicts with a more serious chronic criminal history. For over 20 yrs. drug courts have saved millions of dollars in criminal justice costs and tens of thousands of lives.

  46. Peggy Hora / July 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    I was shocked by your republication of misleading allegations about drug courts. It has been proven that high risk/high need offenders do best in drug courts and that has been part of best practices for years. Although a pre-plea, low risk diversion model was advocated 20 years ago, that is no longer the norm. Perhaps you can run an article correcting your error.

  47. Tim Morgan / July 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    As a former drug court counselor, I observed the Pierce County Drug Court screen out the hard cases and mostly admit first time offenders who could have benefited from regular IOP treatment. Serious repeat offenders who need help the most were passed over as being to much trouble. The one’s that needed Drug court the most were passed over as being to much work for the court staff who screened them. I became disillusioned and moved on to other CD treatment positions.

  48. Judge Richard Ginkowski / July 29, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    This is a bizarre report. Drug courts do not address those with minor issues or infractions but rather those who have serious addictions that have led to serious legal problems. There is a significant deployment of multidisciplinary resources in a lengthy partnership with the offender. If there is a drug court somewhere not following these guidelines it isn’t really a drug court and operates well outside of established parameters which guide hundreds of drug courts in the United States.

  49. Stephen K. Talpins / July 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    I am shocked and disappointed to see the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and Join Together publishing such a one-sided view of drug courts. As a former Miami (Florida) prosecutor, I can attest to the fact that most offenders arrested for simple possession of marijuana are diverted from the system or given minimal sentences without having to participate in any kind of treatment program. Further, the vast majority of drug courts (and the best drug courts) handle higher-risk higher-need offenders. While some drug courts may be admitting the wrong offenders, they are the rare exception, not the rule.

    Most credible studies show that drug courts simultaneously reduce costs, address offender needs, and reduce recidivism. It’s a shame that neither the L.A. Times nor the authors who drafted this article thought to mention that.

  50. Judy Berrocal / July 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    I completed probation drug court and have over two and a half years clean. I was not a simple marijuana case either, I had three prison recommendations and was on probation for sixteen 3rd degree felonies. I had been in and out of lockup since I was 12. I even turned 18 in a group home. I had done drugs and alcohol for over 24 years 22 of them including methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, crack, and marijuana. I was on probation and finally gotten my first possession, and DUI (meth use) when I was given the opportunity to participate in the probation (last chance) drug court program. I was said to be a lost cause and everyone was weary about it because of my background. I knew this was my final straw, it was my first time in treatment, obviously just being incarcerated wasn’t working. I did the OUT (on unit treatment) program while incarcerated, went straight to inpatient then to IOP (intensive outpatient program). I learned coping skills, how to deal with emotions, and most importantly I learned how to be a successful citizen of my community. I was the chair of Utah County’s drug court alumni for a year and a half, before passing it to my successor. I run a non-profit grief group for those who’ve lost a child and am currently on the Utah County Recovery Coalition (UCRC) board. I graduated drug court January 18, 2013 and still holding my head high. I’ve been in school for a year now with my lowest GPA at 3.17. I would say drug court works and not just for those with marijuana charges.

  51. Tyler Smith / July 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Having run an adult drug court for over 6 years I can guarantee that we focus on hardcore offenders. I don’t recall having any participants whose primary drug of choice was marijuana. That being said our courts have specific guidelines requiring a minimum Level of Services Inventory score as well as a GAIN Evaluation confirming need for treatment. As we all know, placing low need, low risk individuals causes more harm than good. Finally, our Court runs at maximum capacity which mean we generally only have high risk, high need participants.

  52. terris / July 29, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    As interesting as this is, it is not correct. It may be true that in the beginning some drug courts took the “easier” cases but it is not an acceptable practice now. In the state of Missouri in which I am a counselor for a drug court we do not take the “easy” cases. The ones that are admitted to the drug ourt that I work out are mostly High Risk, High Need and meet criteria for a substance use disorder with severe symptoms. Those that are not accepted into the drug court program here do not need intensive treatment which may be those chronic marijuana smokers. Please do some more research and you will see that most drug courts work with those who need the intense supervision such as those with methamphetamine, opiate, heroin and other use disorders. Drug courts not only address substance use, but they also address improving other areas of life such as housing, education, employment and family relations.

  53. Charlote / July 29, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Lets set the record straight from someone who has worked in two different drug courts in two different states. I work on the treatment end for drug court and believe you me I cringe when they bring me anyone who has marijuana dependence only. These are individuals whose primary diagnosis is more criminalistic than addiction. We don’t want these individuals but often the choice is done at the legal level. Most of our clients are hard core drug addicts who are slamming heroin, homeless, staying up for days on end using meth, running the streets for crack and selling their bodies for cocaine. People are not getting into our programs because of marijuana use or possession of marijuana use only. If we assess individuals who possession of marijuana it is for several pounds and those individuals are not eligible for drug court because they are dealers. I am not sure where the facts are coming from in this article but they do not align with what is going on in the real world. Perhaps if the author of the article spoke with some individuals who actually work in drug court versus some researcher (and not even a researcher from a university but some corporation firm who does research on everything under the sun) there might be a different view. As we are taught in our graduate programs, always be a good consumer of research, be a good consumer of what you read on the internet. Two cities in the entire country do not make a good sample of the general population of all the drug courts in the country and therefore are not generalizable. Perhaps a larger sampling might be in good order and the outcomes of which you write about would be different.
    Drug courts work because the individual clients in the drug court are encouraged through evidenced based techniques and treatment (such as MI) to increase their motivation to remain sober and work on their recovery. As professionals no one should take the credit for a client’s success in their sobriety. The client does the hard work and is successful. We are here simply to assist and support.

  54. drugcourtswork / July 29, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    I have been involved with drug courts for the last 7 years. Not only do we take those who have a serious addiction, we do NOT take those who are simply abusing drugs. We are required, yes, I said required, to take those people who meet the ASAM criteria for drug or alcohol dependent. We take those people who suffer from meth, opiate, marijuana, and cocaine addition We don’t want to pad our numbers, we want to serve addicts who are in desperate need of help. We want to change behavior, and in turn, change lives, families and communities!!!

  55. reywood / July 29, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    I think if someone is going to write about drug courts, they should go sit in on a few and experience first hand how beneficial they are. I was previously on a drug court panel, which consisted of the treatment providers, a probation officer, 2 circuit court judges, a defense attorney, and a prosecuting attorney. We met every week before court to discuss progress, issues, referrals, etc. Our participants were primarily opiate addicts, with heroin being the primary drug of choice. This is one of the hardest drugs to kick. We had quite a few success stories over the years. Several went on and graduated from college. Others found meaningful jobs. Everyone, even those that didn’t complete drug court, had top notch treatment, access to valuable resources, etc. They all benefitted from drug court. Of course, not everyone can qualify for drug court, even those that seem to need it the most. So, if someone does not enlighten themselves on the criteria to become a drug court participant, they may want to do some homework before writing an article.

  56. Aileen / July 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I live in N CA where we are known for the amount of marijuana grown in this area the 707 area. The drug court in our area, has no offenders that are low level in use of substances or in amount of prison time they were facing in the judicial system. Our average client, has fifteen to twenty years of meth use with the majority have been to prison. To gain admittance to our program, you have to have been charged with a felony.
    Unlike this article in our drug court we deal with only the facts.

  57. blammons / July 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Not sure how many drug court programs were surveyed for the article.

    As a prosecutor who participates regularly in a drug/wellness court, I can say our focus is on high risk/high needs individuals who are repeat offenders with a significant drug or alcohol dependency. Our focus is on those individuals who have not been able to make significant positive changes on regular probation. We pay less regard for whether we think an individual will make it through the program than one might think. The reality is some participants who seemed to have little chance at the outset have successfully graduated from the program, otherwise who we thought would graduate easily have not done so.

    In this jurisidiction, the defendants in marijuana possession cases are assessed a small fine and court costs. There is simply little or no incentive to enter a year long program with intense drug testing and supervision in such cases.

  58. Carolyn Myers / July 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    I am the Coordinator of Juvenile and Family Drug Court and I can say that we deal with people who have deep problems with drugs. Meth, amp, prescription drugs etc. with out this program many people would not get the opportunity for rehab. I am very thankful to the powers that be for providing grant money to funds these programs.

    The article appears to come from whiners who do not want help with overcoming their addiction.

  59. George Bowden / July 29, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    In our adult offender drug court in Snohomish County (Washington) 60-65% of the participants are opiate addicts (heroin, Oxycontin, etc.) and few if any list marijuana as their drug of choice. Recreational drug users/abusers typically resolve their charge with a misdemeanor conviction in district court. The prosecutor also diverts many charged offenses into a pre-prosecution diversion program, intended for low risk offenders. So we deal with high risk/high needs offenders, by design, which may account for why 30-40% are unable to successfully complete the program. Legalization of marijuana in this state will spike hospital ER visits, but it will likely have zero impact on adult drug court, since very few of our participants are clinically screened to be addicted or dependent on marijuana.

    • Molly Binson / August 20, 2014 at 11:30 am

      On what do you base your assertion that “legalization of marijuana will spike hospital ER visits?” Has it in Colorado? With a substance that has no known lethal dosage, and has yet to produce a single overdose victim, does not cause loss of consciousness or coordination or have major effects on organ systems, how can you say that? I worked for 9 years in psychiatric emergency services, have seen many people come in with medical and psychiatric crises brought on by drug (mostly opiate painkillers and meth) and alcohol, and not a single on where marijuana was implicated as causing or even contributing to the emergency. In our county drug and alcohol program, marijuana-only users got admitted simply because they got drug tested while on probation, or on-the-job random testing and were given outpatient drug treatment as an option to probation violation or job loss. so if there’s any cherry-picking going on, it’s simply because marijuana metabolites stay in the system and show up on drug tests longer than any other substance.

  60. jlg626 / July 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I am a Veterans Court caseworker and just had a heroine addict facing 6 felony convictions successfully complete our program. He will be returning to school in the fall and continues to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. He is clean and sober today as a result of this program. He continues with his ongoing therapy. I just received an email from him thanking us (Veterans Court) for helping him get his life back…We have many stories such as this…sorry to disappoint the writer of the article…major addict, clean and sober and felony free…ALL charges were dismissed and eligible for expungement.

  61. Karen Duncan / July 29, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    It is discouraging to hear this report. However, this is not how it is everywhere. We only admit “high risk/high need” offenders into our recovery court. Our philosophy is that the worst 10% of the offenders cause 90% of the problems in our communities. Because of this, these are the offenders we want to target with the bulk of our resources. This is hard work for the team and for the participants. Hard enough, in fact, that some folks prefer to go to prison.

  62. Hon.Linda Cowen / July 29, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I preside over a misdemeanor drug court in Georgia. We have helped offenders who have been using every drug known to humans for most of their lives, whether the drug was legal and illegal. Many of them have been addicted since they were children. No one is excluded due to their financial status. This article does not paint an accurate picture of the good work done by Drug Courts across the nation.

  63. Pamela Mitchum / July 29, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I graduated from a DUI/DRUG court in Union County NC in Feb, 2012. I have been clean almost 4 years to this program. THEY DO WORK!!!

  64. meltee / July 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I find jboside’s conspiracy theory unconvincing. He never makes clear what the DPA might gain by disparaging drug courts. He dismisses the article by saying MJ convictions don’t happen in California, but the article talks about drug courts in Harlem and Florida. There is some evidence the concerns may have some foundation. State laws regarding eligibility for drug courts do generally exclude chronic offenders (those with more serious abuse problems), and it is possible some drug courts may try to increase their odds of success by limiting their intakes to clients with lower levels of problems just like other agencies might try to “cream” the good clients to improve their success rates.

    • Pesayoo / July 29, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      I’ve worked with tribal adult and juvenile drug courts in Nevada and Arizona, and state adult and juvenile drug courts in California, and family treatment courts in Montana, between 1997 and 2007. The problem in talking to only one or two people about their experience or conclusions is that’s all you get. Look at the published research on problem solving courts (whether called tribal Healing to Wellness Courts, adult and juvenile Drug Court, Family Treatment Court, Veteran Treatment Court, etc.). None of the problem solving courts I worked with would have admitted a person with a charge of MJ possession–most importantly, the person would not have been assessed as needing intensive, court supervised, outpatient treatment. The problem solving courts I’ve been involved with admitted, for the most part, heroin and methamphetamine addicts, with many facing imposed, but stayed pending completion of drug court, prison sentences (or jail sentences longer that the 13-18 month long treatment program). If the completed the program, the sentences were not imposed. Most of the participants in the Family Treatment Courts I worked with were meth addicts who had neglected or abused their children and lost custody of them to the State, and learned what children need to thrive. Review the articles in the Drug Court Review. For an example of tribal courts addressing addiction, see “The Duckwater Shoshone Drug Court, 1997-2000: Melding Traditional Dispute Resolution with Due Process,” 26(2) American Indian Law Review 261-286 (University of Oklahoma, Norman, 2002).

    • Helen Harberts / July 30, 2014 at 8:45 am

      DPA has a long and clear history of attacking drug courts, including a hearing in the Senate where they came in with “opinions” and got nailed with facts. DPA does not believe drugs are a justice issue. They support a strictly medical approach. Differing philosophies. However, one works and one does not when dealing with a criminally involved drug offender. It is clear: drug courts work better than anything we have tried.

      • Helen Harberts / July 30, 2014 at 8:50 am

        If you want to close prisons, save money and cut crime : bring drug court to scale. Without diluting the model. We need to shift to assessment criminal justice and focus our approach by what the specific risks and needs are for each person.

  65. jboside / July 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    This article sounds like Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote it. The LA Times reference makes it sounds like this is happining in California. Simple marijuana possesion in California is an infraction and is a $100 fine if you can even get a law enforcement officer to write it. No one in California is in drug court for simple possession. You might and I mean might have someone in drug court if they have two pounds of weed for sale. DPA has been trying to distroy Drug Courts fo a long time, it’s just more of their propaganda.

  66. Sharon S / July 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I really don’t understand this at all. Like everything else in life, I guess it all depends on where you live. I am a former client of drug court in Houston, Texas. People with misdemeanor marijuana charges are not even considered. In Harris County Texas, a person has to have a felony charge to even be qualified, so this makes no sense to me.

  67. Jeff Shelton / July 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I was involved with the start-up of a DC which concentrated on serious repeat offenders who usually had multiple treatment failures. These persons normally faced 5 or more years in prison if the didn’t complete the program. Despite the target population we chose, I found as a clinician that the team was often reluctant to accept referrals which they felt they didn’t have the expertise to serve, or whom they felt were too high risk. There were more team members from criminal justice and even the treatment people were risk adverse because they wanted to align with the CJ folks as much as possible. A learning experience for CJ was that most referrals had co-occurring disorders which were felt to be high risk. At the outset there was even a reluctance to treat the few women referred. I recall a long discussion about a woman who had cut herself—5 years before!

    We worked through some of this over time. My guess is that a reason why MJ abusers are preferred in some courts is they are seen as easier to treat, better risks. This can backfire when this population perceives they’re receiving too much treatment and restriction.

  68. Jeanie / July 29, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    This is very sad news because drug court was originally intended for those who would otherwise be facing prison time. It works very well in those situations, but not necessarily for those with minor offenses or who do not have a drug addiction. Hopefully some oversight can be done to get Drug Court back to what it is meant to be, a very good program with outstanding success rates.

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