Reprinted from January 2016
Recent published articles suggest that some drug courts show a statistical preference for participants who have less serious criminal histories (ie. without violent incidents or mental health issues), are less drug dependent, and have substantial community resources to assist them (family, job, education, etc.). Basically the suggestion is that those who are truly “drug dependent” offenders (and more specifically “people of color”) are not getting into drug court or not staying very long.
The question then is, what is the appropriate “targeted population for drug court”? While the Drug Court field started out somewhat timidly dealing with less serious drug offenders, the research and experience of the past twenty years has proven conclusively the merit of working with those with longer criminal histories, more difficult personal issues such as illiteracy, mental illness, and lack of community resources, and critically, addiction/drug dependency (specifically, low risk offenders do not benefit, and in fact do worse than similar offenders who have not been placed in intensive treatment programs; University of Cincinnati)
But there are still some drug courts who prefer to focus on those with less serious drug problems. Those drug courts that are reluctant to take on the difficult drug dependent offender need to consider creating a drug court system that deals with their preferred clientel, but also provides separate tracks for those with more serious problems, specifically drug addiciton and mental illness (interestingly, researchers tell us that 60 to 80% of drug offenders are not “addicted or drug dependent”; see: Drug Court Systems, NDCI Monograph #2, J Tauber)
Consider this; If you don’t put the serious drug dependent offender in your drug court program you are impacting the program’s participant base (delaying entry by more than a week can by itself have a profound impact on your program’s demographics). You are increasing the number of participants who are most likely to stray from the program and return to drugs, and limiting the program’s availability to people who need it the most.
If you are still wondering whether your community’s drug court is reaching your intended drug court participant demographic, ask yourself, your colleagues, and your community the following questions:
1. Are you delaying entry in to the program (it doesn’t matter if the delay is for a valid reason, it’s impact on participant demographics can be profound)
2. Are you screening participants to eliminate those with violence or mental illness in their backgrounds?
3. Do you have less than ten percent of those charged with drug offenses in your program?
4. Do you have smaller percentage of people of color entering (and graduating from your program) than are otherwise charged with the same offenses?
5. Do you screen out participants because they are too difficult or uncooperative, or believed to have little chance of success (the “you gotta hit bottom before we can help you” syndrome)
6. Do you create transportation barriers that defeat the participants’ ability to comply; specifically, frequent monitoring, treatment, and rehabilitation requirements at different and/or difficult to reach locations?
7. Do you drive participants (and their attorneys) away from your program with unnecessarily punitive terms; keeping offenders in the program for longer than necessary or with unduly harsh sanctions (in some places 5 year programs/probation and suspended prison terms)
8. Do you make your screening decisions based on plea negotiations rather than competent psychological and medical assessments?
On the other hand, you may wish to consider an “EVIDENCE-BASED SENTENCING SYSTEM”……..