Drug courts don't work as advertised, shift undue risks to courts

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The almost universal acceptance of the "problem-solving court" concept by both the courts and the academic community provides a good example of the hazards of the bandwagon effect on the development of public policy.

Their proponents have successfully promoted the adoption of these programs by repeating, and then having others repeat, a mantra of success that grossly belies reality and ignores the compelling issues they raise. Not surprisingly, this has led to the development of an extensive bureaucracy fueled almost entirely by federal money and encouraged by cheerleaders entrenched in an all-too-often self-serving subculture of "therapeutic jurisprudence."

UNFORTUNATELY, DRUG courts, mental health courts, and other problem-solving courts have proliferated as one more proposed panacea for solving complex behavioral problems despite only the most limited debate. These initiatives raise important issues that go to the heart of the justice system and its place in the larger political structure.

In general their success has been misrepresented and their disadvantages largely ignored. A recent controversy concerning the drug court policies of a judge in south Georgia have brought these issues to the forefront.

It must be noted there are no uniform or standardized legal rules or criteria for operating a drug or mental health court, and there is considerable diversity in the way they operate.

One common denominator is that offenders are given the opportunity to avoid incarceration and sometimes a criminal conviction by following certain rules. Most employ, at least loosely, B.F. Skinner's principles of operant conditioning and manipulate rewards and punishments to motivate offenders to follow treatment and behavioral requirements.

It is central to the drug court concept that participants require treatment. For mental health courts this almost always includes the use of psychotropic drugs. Most importantly, judges directly supervise the offenders' performance and mete out sanctions for failure to follow the rules.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH drug courts? As they say, let me count the ways.

First they don't work nearly as well as the proponents espouse. The early reports of their success were largely based on anecdotal reports of judges who got giddy with the notion that some of the people in the programs actually stayed off of drugs and were so happy about it that they hugged their judicial therapists.

Subsequent research fueled by large amounts of federal money seemed to support this impression -- until it was noted that the research was anything but scientific, and had it been used to support the approval of a new drug, many patients would have died. The newest and somewhat more sophisticated research has indicated that any success is modest, applicable to only a select group of offenders and much less cost effective than represented.

In addition, shifting the responsibility for solving the problems of drug addiction and mental illness to the court system, and in particular to the judge, is a very risky proposition that threatens both judicial independence and impartiality.

Assuming drug and mental health courts provide a model for effective behavior modification, the same results can be accomplished without the need to fundamentally alter the judiciary's traditional role as an independent adjudicator and guardian of the rule of law.

These courts do not provide individuals with access to any new or unusually effective form of treatment. Professionals can offer treatment only that our current scientific knowledge of human behavior supports. If the treatment doesn't work in the community, it won't work any better if carried out in the context of the court system.

Moreover -- assuming that these initiatives offer some advantage in the management of criminal offenders -- direct and ongoing judicial involvement is not required. The dissemination of rewards and punishments can be done by anyone who has the practical ability to do so.

IN THE COURT system, or more broadly, the justice system, probation officers and perhaps parole officers are not only capable of doing it but are better positioned to do so. They have arrest powers and therefore the authority to incarcerate offenders thought to be in violation of the conditions of release. They can be properly delegated authority to do all sorts of things related to the supervision of offenders that can affect the offender's quality of life in the community.

Also, they are better positioned to distribute consequences in a manner consistent with the requirements of operant learning theory, including using more carefully constructed and precisely executed schedules of reinforcement and punishment.

Perhaps of most concern is that the actions of drug and other specialty court judges in most states are all most entirely without accountability. Few of these court cases will ever be reviewed by appellate courts and there most certainly will be no direct supervision of a drug court judge's day-to-day decision making. In short they are bastions of almost unbridled judicial discretion and subject to an increased risk of abuse -- albeit in the name of good intentions.

I am certain that the overwhelming majority of judges assigned to these specialty courts are sincere in their intentions to solve what they see as pervasive social problems, and eager to help those struggling with the often devastating effects of drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness.

On the other hand, judges are not elected or appointed to serve as therapists, and the courts should not be expected to carry out responsibilities that the community has failed to fully embrace.

(The writer retired in 2010 from a 21-year career as a judge in Pennsylvania's Sixth Judicial Circuit. He serves as a senior judge by assignment of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and resides in Aiken, S.C.)

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Riverman1 05/08/11 - 03:41 pm
The judge fights hard to stop

The judge fights hard to stop the growth of alternative courts of all kinds that are growing by leaps and bounds. Even civil matters are now being settled with arbiters, instead of judges. The move to alternative drug courts is simply a realization that the current system doesn't work. The jails are full with drug offenders while violent criminals going free.

Billions of dollars have been spent on law enforcement, prisons and the judicial system these last couple of decades with absolutely no improvement in the illegal drug use situation.

Indeed, prescription drug abuse from condescending health care practitioners has grown to overwhelming numbers. That's a new twist on the illegal drug use issue. How do you lock up physicians for making a subjective decision? Good luck with that. Something realistic has to be done and drug court is the answer.

Take a fraction of the money now wasted and use it to educate young people about the evils of drug use and treat those addicted while taxing drugs and there will be a serious debt reduction, fewer crimes drug related and a less crowded judicial system.

Of course, Judge Bozza doesn't want courts that are not jammed pack. He believes alternative courts usurp the authority of the legal system and he doesn't want anything doing that. Whether it's drug use, mental illness or any other matter, he wants to rule on it. Power.

Patty-P 05/08/11 - 05:52 pm
I support the education and

I support the education and the prevention of drug use and abuse. Drug court doesn't work for the majority and most go back into the streets and use again. I think more effort and money should be spent on getting the dealers off the streets. That means targeting the suppliers aggressively. Drugs and crime are of course closely connected. Get a grip on the drug problem and crime rates will go down.

Asitisinaug 05/08/11 - 11:00 pm
Much of this eidtorial (ie"

Much of this eidtorial (ie" letter to the editor) is opinionated vs. fact based, judge or not.

Drug courts do work for many and provide an alternative for those who wish to avoid jail time. They also help communities where jails are full as most would prefer violent criminals behind bars. Often, the person or family is responsible for all payments for the courts and the treatment which is far better than probate or superior court.

If you want to talk about what doesn't work, it is liberal judges in superior court settings allowing violent criminals to turn jail cells into revolving doors jails.

Drugs destroy many lives and legalization isn't the answer either. Filling up jails with non violent drug users without allowing them other opportunities is not in their or our best interest as a society.

Drug courts are a great alternative and the posted results thus far for our area exceed 50% compliance. This provides the offender with a second chance, frees up our regular courts, frees up jail space, saves a lot of tax money and lowers the recividism rate. Most would believe that this is excellent for the community.

Patty-P 05/08/11 - 11:10 pm
Asitis...speaking from my

Asitis...speaking from my perspective and knowing people and even juveniles who have abused drugs, it can work with family support. I believe in treatment programs but I also believe in getting to the root of the problem which is the dealers and suppliers. I've seen lives destroyed by those who used drugs and it takes a lot to get through the counseling and stay clean. I do agree that liberal judges don't impose appropriate sentences for violent offenders.

JesusSavesAtCitiBank 05/09/11 - 12:25 am
A brief history of

A brief history of prohibition in America:

In the beginning of America from 1776 to the early 1900’s all of the drugs (marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, heroin, etc.) existed and were used by everyone from the president (Yep…George Washington grew weed and smoked it) to the common folk. It was just a normal every day thing and folks didn’t think much about it UNTIL….

In the early 1900’s a combination of religious zealotry, racism, xenophobia and big business combined to make them all illegal. BIG TROUBLE AROSE as people still wanted these drugs. STREET GANGS arose to meet the needs of these people and MUCH VIOLENCE was the result as gangs fought one another. The government relented and re-legalized one of the drugs: alcohol. The violence associated with bootlegging alcohol STOPPED.

Yes the thirst was quenched for those who preferred the drug alcohol but the other drug users got left behind in a myriad of propaganda and flat out lies while alcohol was re-embraced by the mainstream. As not all recreational drug users are happy with the drug alcohol (a highly addictive depressant whose consumption can lead to violent irrational behavior, overdoses, a myriad of health problems and death [e.g. Ted Koppel’s son]) they have chosen others.

Unfortunately, in 2011 they have to go to the dangerous black market if they wish to enjoy what Americans LEGALLY enjoyed in the late 1800s in a bottle of COCA-Cola (where do you think it got its name?…that’s right it had COCAine in it and your great-great-great granny probably drank a bottle. Did she freak and shoot anyone then rob a bank? Probably not) or in a pipe of marijuana whose use is so commonplace that the US has a higher usage rate than some counties where the drug is perfectly legal.

If these other prohibition drug laws were lifted…the crime would disappear the same way it disappeared when alcohol prohibition was lifted because the gangs would simply be put out of business. There hasn’t been a drive-by bootleg liquor shooting in Chicago in around 75 years since prohibition was lifted…that’s not an accident.

But...but if we make drugs legal everyone will go around and drive all stoned, high, speeded out, etc...

All drugs are available. Some are legal, some are not. But if you want them, you can get them. Regardless of what you prefer to be intoxicated on, Driving intoxicated, operating heavy machinery intoxicated, or doing surgery intoxicated on anything is and should always be severely punished.

Just as we do not punish someone who enjoys a bottle of wine beside the TV at night, I would like to see us move the same direction with the rest of it. If someone wants to smoke a doobie at night instead of drink wine, we shouldn't punish them for it if they are doing it responsibly. Regardless of the substance. If they aren't putting other peoples lives in danger by operating heavy machinery or operating on someone else, it should be the individuals decision what he or she chooses to relax with in the spare time.

P.S. Maybe we could use some of those billions of left over dollars that we will no longer be spending persecuting, judging and incarcerating non-violent drug users and start spending it to help people :)

JesusSavesAtCitiBank 05/09/11 - 12:26 am
The veteran sitting across

The veteran sitting across the table from me looked weary after delivering yet another speech against a war that has neither a point nor, apparently, an end. It was started years ago by a Republican president, long since discredited, the veteran noted. Yet the Democrats who until a few weeks ago controlled both the White House and Congress didn't raise a finger to stop it. ``I don't understand how much more money has to be wasted or how many more lives have to be ruined before we admit it's been a huge mistake,'' Kyle Vogt told me. We can end this thing with the stroke of a pen.' He wasn't referring to Iraq or Afghanistan, but America's truly endless war, the war on drugs. Declared 40 years ago by President Nixon, it chews up $41 billion in government spending each year while sending two million Americans to jail. Yet Nixon's goal of a drug-free America (the final issue is not whether we will conquer drug abuse, but how soon'') seems no closer to anyone but the drug warriors themselves.

All these years later, the people running the drug war keep promising us the same thing they have from the beginning, that they can decrease drug use,'' Vogt said. They just need a little more time and a little more money. Why do we listen? We wouldn't tolerate that from a physician who was treating us and not making us any better.

And if everything your physician told you to do made your illness worse, you'd quit doing it and find another doctor.''

Vogt, who served four years as a military policeman on a Maryland army base, speaks as a veteran of the front lines of the drug war. He's one of an increasing number of former drug warriors turned doves. Their organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), includes some 4,000 people -- from beat cops through Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico -- who once played roles in enforcing drug laws.

I caught up with Vogt in a Fort Lauderdale coffee shop recently after he spoke to Broward County's Libertarian Party. He told me that if LEAP membership weren't career suicide, its roster would be full of current policemen, prosecutors and judges as well. I talk to law-enforcement people all the time,'' he said. I'd guess eight out of every 10 are totally against this prohibition policy we follow on drugs. And every single one of them is baffled that we put people in jail for marijuana. Marijuana doesn't kill anyone, while we see that in the case of alcohol all the time.''

Baby Boomers, most of whom used marijuana themselves when they were younger, like to kid themselves that the war on drugs that they've wholeheartedly supported as adults is aimed not at marijuana but harder drugs, and not at users but traffickers.

But the cold fact is that U.S. drug-enforcement policy overwhelmingly targets not drug lords but the people to whom they sell. FBI statistics for 2007 show that more than 80 percent of U.S. drug arrests that year were for possession rather than sale, and that there were nearly twice as many arrests for marijuana as for heroin and cocaine combined.

When he was a military policeman, Vogt thought arresting people for using marijuana was weird: If we were called to a domestic dispute or a hostage situation, we worried about alcohol, not marijuana, because it's alcohol that makes people crazy.'' But it wasn't until after he left the military and opened a construction business in Port St. Lucie that he turned into an active opponent of marijuana laws.

My son was arrested after a cop saw him smoking a joint in a parked car,'' Vogt said. ``He had to pay a fine of a couple of hundred dollars, which is not such a big deal, at least not for us. But college scholarships? Forget it. My son can't even get a simple job. He goes online to fill out an application to work at a hamburger chain, and he gets to that little box that says, `Have you ever been arrested?' And when he clicks yes, the next thing he sees on the screen is, SESSION ENDED.''

The worst, Vogt fears, is yet to come. He looks south across the border to Mexico, now the most murderous country in the world as a result of warfare between drug cartels competing for the U.S. market, and sees a grim vision of America's future.

Prohibition creates crime and violence in our society that need not exist, except for the policy of prohibition itself,'' he said, shaking his head. We tried this with alcohol, and we had gangsters, just like Mexico does. And when we replaced Prohibition with a system of regulation and control, we got rid of the gangsters. You don't see Coors and Budweiser doing drive-by shootings or planting car bombs to increase their market share.''

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/01/2044289/end-this-absurd-war.html#d...

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 05/09/11 - 12:42 am
If we continue with the war

If we continue with the war on our civil rights uuhh i mean the "war on drugs" then we will need a LOT more drug courts, jails, and everything else because the drug war only made things a lot worse.

There are already laws on the books to seize land used for criminal purposes. Seize the land that these drugs grow on, make the prisoners there harvest the drugs and route them through the drug stores. The Drug Cartels lose their land AND their market and we WIN the drug war. DRUGS BECOME PASSE the minute they are no longer FORBIDDEN FRUIT.
3 birds 1 stone.

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