June 16, 2014
From the article, “BUILDING TODAY’S COMMUNITY BASED DRUG COURTS”, (first published online, 2005), this observation discusses the success of the drug court in terms of its ability to emulate “traditional community”.
Community or its absence pervades everything we do. It controls our behavior through a socialization process that begins almost from birth. Where it seriously deteriorates, “niche communities” fill the void, and can prove to be as destructive as the gang cultures of L.A., as uplifting as the church choir or as potentially beneficial as the “drug court community”.
Envision this scene. Somewhere in a courtroom in America, a Drug Court Graduation is being televised. The full complement of judges sitting en banc; the county sheriff, the mayor and city council members shaking hands with former addicts who a year before had been selling drugs on city streets; a celebrity speaker at the dais; sheriffs deputies rubbing shoulders with the families of drug court participants; graduates sharing a non-alcoholic beverage and cake with police officers at a post graduation party.
At least in part because of media exposure to Drug Court (and graduations in particular), the general public and the media in particular have come to see the drug abuser as worthy of compassion and, when successful in treatment, even something of a heroic figure. In packed courthouses across the United States, mayors, police chiefs, governors and chief justices, stand shoulder to shoulder with former substance abusers and applaud the graduates of their community’s drug court. We can view such a scene as an example of the media’s penchant for happy news, or it may be something more…
I was one of the judge’s sitting as a guest of the Boston court in the scene described above. I couldn’t help but feel the power in the human drama unfolding before me. There was more here than a simple ceremony dramatizing the reform of a drug abuser. Although I had seen similar ceremonies in many courts across the United States, and felt the same sense of awe, inspiration and hope, this time I sensed something different.
I felt like I was observing a primitive ritual, as old as the hills. Today, I understand I was witnessing the power of community to effect change in the individual (and help heal the community itself). Drug courts may be tapping into a powerful human need, to be accepted by one’s community, as well as the community’s need to make itself whole by reintegrating the reformed outcast back into society. After that experience, I began to look for other signs of community behavior in Drug court and other problem solving courts. As you read on, you will realize, as I have, they aren’t hard to find.