I went to Drug Court last week to support a young friend who was graduating from the program there. Drug court is a concept which is spreading throughout New York State. A county judge presides over each one. Some drug courts are very large and have massive community tie-ins and supports. Others are struggling with funding issues and thus are limited in how many people they can help.
When someone is brought before the justice system on charged related to or stemming from chemical addiction, if they are fortunate, someone from drug court will visit them in jail to determine if they are eligible and motivated to stay out of jail or prison. If so, they are released from jail, placed on probation, and must follow their individual treatment programs.
Drug Court is not something that people can just skate through. They are subject to random urine screenings and must report to drug court as directed, usually biweekly. They are given forms to take with them to self-help programs which much be signed by someone there as proof of attendance. The drug court participant must attend day treatment programs on weekdays and any other counseling as directed. Sometimes, they must interview at halfway houses and then follow the dictates of those residential programs as well. Drug court is strenuous by definition. Those who miss days at treatment, are caught driving after losing their licenses, relapse, do not obtain employment after completing a day treatment program, or have a dirty urine may be sanctioned by the court and remanded to jail for a long weekend or two weeks. Occasionally, a drug court participant violates their probation and must go to prison. Almost all drug court participants complete and many go on to maintain abstinence and become productive members of society.
After going through a cursory screening, I walked down the hall and entered the courtroom. The jury boxes on either side of the judge were occupied by treatment professionals and law personnel. I sat in the general audience with the families and friends of the graduates and with those who were not graduating yet. Everyone was dressed up rather nicely. There were no jeans or casual clothing in evidence. The bailiff and sheriff personnel had on their crisp blue uniforms. The judge appeared in a suit rather than in robes.
That afternoon, instead of participants meeting for an hour beforehand to talk, the judge went into what is usually done second-- he called up the participants one by one to his bench to ask how they were doing. Two people were sent to jail for a long weekend. One had missed two days of treatment and one had not brought in his meeting attendance slips. Many people were told, "We have a very good report on you. Well done!" Each was asked by the judge if things were going alright or if they had anything to tell him or how their family was. The judge was obviously familiar with all participants.
While speaking to each one, the judge would dispense tidbits of wisdom. "You have to have a Plan B" was one phrase. "There are consequences for your actions" was another. In speaking to one man who had lost his third job in as many months, the judge told him, "You and your bosses butt heads. You need the job. I want you to have long-term employment at one place. You have to back down. Do not let your machismo take over. Understand?" Another man said he didn't know why two halfway houses had rejected his application. He had three more to hear from and another interview scheduled. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing and then finally admitting that he told the last director of a halfway house that he didn't like group homes, the judge thundered at him, "What do you know about group homes that makes you think you know you won't like it???" The man continued to present excuses. "I think you are sabotaging your interviews," the judge declared. A third, a woman, was cheered because she had managed to gain weight. [She was overly thin]. Everyone clapped for her. A fourth man was advised to get or borrow a bicycle for when his car broke so he could pedal to treatment and to meetings-- that was one of the Plan B people. A fifth was instructed to stick around because the judge wanted to speak with him privately. All of that went smoothly. Folks were called up in alphabetical order. A few seemed a bit nervous. Most were not.
After it was over, a defense attorney who had been the victim of property destruction by the hands of one graduate when drunk gave him his graduation certificate. The judge handed out all of the other other certificates of completion, telling a bit about each graduate and how far they had come, and also reading from something each had written beforehand about how they had changed. Each graduate also said a few words. There were many stories of people who were drunk or high a lot, drove drunk or high a lot, were estranged from their families, were unemployable, had been arrested three, four, five, or six times, had been through treatment programs before and didn't make it. It was heart-warming. Graduates had between fifteen months and two years of sobriety. All graduates were employed full-time or had completed schooling. My friend who graduated had had his house raided. 1000 pounds of mushroom-laced chocolate was recovered during that raid. Before drug court, he had flunked out of a two year college in three and a half years. During his time at Drug Court, he was able to graduate a community college with a 3.75 average and is on his way to a bachelors. He has plans to get a masters.
After the graduation, we went out to a jury room where a nice spread of sandwiches was laid out, along with fresh fruit platters, cookies, pastries, fruit punch, sodas, and coffee. The food had been prepared by members of Lifeworks! Lifeworks! is composed of some folks who are currently in drug court, some who had graduated and a few family members. The tuna sandwiches, [artificial] crab salad sandwiches, and egg salad sandwiches were prepared on small hoagie rolls. I had an egg salad-- it was good. Graduate friend had one of each. Pineapples and strawberries were fine specimens and delicious. Cantaloupe also looked fresh. Pastries from a nearby Italian bakery were tasty.
Everyone who had stayed on to eat were looking pretty happy and excited chatter filled the room. I knew almost everybody there. Friend left because his father [who wasn't able to get the time off of work for the graduation] was there to pick him up. He and his parents were going out to dinner. I spent the rest of the time talking with a treatment professional that I know casually.
For those with concerns about forced treatment programs for addictions, I write this addendum. The participants of drug court were able to resume their lives and stay out of the criminal justice system. They are not accepted into drug court if they do not want to be there and would rather just complete their jail terms or prison sentences. [And yes, some do refuse drug court]. Participation in drug court is an alternative to time behind bars. As such, the participants must be under severe strictures, watched, monitored. They must remain abstinent in order to continue to live in their homes during their time in drug court. They must follow the program guidelines. All of that is as it should be.
Drug court teaches people that their actions do have consequences, that they must change playmates, playpens, and playthings in order to avoid jail time, that they must be responsible for their problems, that they must have a Plan B because the drug court judge does not accept excuses or rationalizations for bad behaviors.
The success rate of people who attend a drug court and required treatment [day treatment; or day treatment plus halfway house] is higher than those who attend any treatment or self-help programs without a drug court. Drug court is another tool that we now have at our disposal in order to mitigate the effects of addiction on society. Putting someone in drug court is cheaper than housing them in the criminal justice system. And many many times more effective in terms of self-rehabilitation.