COMMENTARY

WHY DRUG ADDICTION IS SIMPLER THAN YOU THOUGHT 

 

A five minute video, based on the book by Johann Hari, “Chasing the Scream”, was put out by Patreon (they welcome your contributions through their website, Patreon.com)

It describes the causes of addiciton and the “Cure” in a clear and simple way for the lay person (as well as the so-called experts). An absolute must for anyone who wants to understand the root causes of addiciton and the way back from the precipice.

“In a Nutshell”, the video makes clear the importance of environment and most importantly, “connection to others” as a cure to the misery of drug addiction. Then again the video expalins it best.

 

 

COMMENTARY

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ALTERNATIVES TO THE AMERICAN “RETRIBUTION” PRISON MODEL

A recently published book on prisons around the world, turns a spotlight on the “punishment“ focus of America Prisons and alternatives to that American Model. Baz Dreisinger, writes in her book, “Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World”, that  while many counties are creating their own American inspired “Super Max Prisons, ther are alternative models to consider as well. [The following is based on a an interview with the author by Robin Young of ”here and now”]

The Author relates her experience in visiting nine countires who have created alternative appraches to the “punishment“ oriented American model. In Places like Rwanda, which suffered thorugh crimes of genocide, the principal penal focus is on “healing” , reparations”, and restoration”.  In Scandanaia, there are “Open Prisons” where people can come and go, allowing them to be a part of the community and work.  And in Australia, where “Private Prisons”  (while apprpriately villifed in the U.S.) have developed  innovative, open approaches to prisons, that allows extensive community interaction and are run entirely on restorative principles.

Ms. Dresinger does an important servce by offering  us a glimpse of the wide world of restorative justice  that exist outside of the U.S. I believe it will be through an a open review of alternatives criminal justice systems and behavior modification models that we will create a just and humane criminal justice system here in the U.S..

Having traveled extensively abroad, and viisted prisons and court systems in many parts of the world, I agree with the authors’ findings that a more community-based, restorative approach to crimnal behavior is a critically needed in our present system (Rejecting the Conventional Prison; JTauber).

We know that communtiy based behavioral controls works; that healing through “restoratove justice principles” succed where punitive models don’t; that “community-based alternatives” are a far better foundation for creating a just society than one that is retribution based . But we remain fixed in our commitment to the one size fits all punitive prison model favored in the U.S. And that is an issue we must come to grips with.

COMMENTARY

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GROWING SOCIAL INEQUALITY LINKED TO HARSH CRIMINAL SENTENCES

A recent research paper out of Great Britain, finds that “public anger toward crime and support for harsh criminal justice policy ia linked to factors associated with social inequality.” The paper written by Carolyn Cote-Lussier, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, is titled, “The Functional Relation Between Social Inequality, Criminal Stereotypes, and PublicAttitudes toward Punishment of Crime, (published in the journal of “Psycology, Public Policy and Law”).

What’s particularly interesting about this paper is that it explores in depth what may seem obvious to many, but is still of great significance; that the “link between between thinking that criminals have a low social status and feeling angry and punitive toward crime suggests that growing social inequality and failing to address disadvantage could actually contribute to even greater public demands for harsh criminal justice policy making it difficult for governments to tackle unsustainable high prison populations”.

Though the study was conducted in the UK, there is every reason to believe that the same factors are at work here in the U.S. “In the US,  comprehensive longitudinal study revealed a significant association between income inequality and the US federal incarceration rate between 1953 and 2008. Income inequality has been rising over the past three decades in countries such as the US and Canada.”

Once again, thought the findings may not be surprising, they are important to a basic understanding of society’s attitude and harsh treatment of the criminal. It makes sense to conclude that the widenning social and economic inequality in the U.S since the 1980s., has had a significant impact on both our perception and treatment of those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Since 1990 alone, prison terms have increased substantially in the U.S. (According to a study by Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, the length of time served in U.S. prisons has increased by an average of 36 percent between 1990 and 2009; (PDF of the PEW article, “Time Served; The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms”).

“Lastly, Professor Cote-Lussier makes the point that “policies that reduce social inequality, such as improving educational attainment, could also ultimately decrease public demand for harsh criminal justice policies and could have the added benefit of reducing crime and the victimization of vulnerable populations.

 

 

COMMENTARY

 ITALIANS PRISONERS SUCCEED THROUGH THEATRE

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 10.33.28 PMWhile running the nacent San Francisco Parole Reentry Court in 2010, I  rediscovered the importance of engaging parolees in what the social scientists call  “Pro-Social Activities”. If you could provide opportunities to engage in positive community-based activities (especially productive or creative ones), they were very likely to succeed. It worked for the serious and violent offenders that appeared before me. Though many believe that sanctions and especially incarceration are necessary to achieve compliance, that just wasn’t the case in our program (“San Francisco Reentry court:87% fewer return to Prison”).

Confirmation comes from many programs and studies in the U.S. and around the world. One of the most exciting is the success of the Italian Prison Theatre, which teaches and produces serious theatre, both inside and outside of prison. The following is largely taken from a 2013 article on the website of Jean Trounstine  as well as a 2009 Los Angeles Times article.

“Since 1988, Compagnia della Fortezza, the company named after the Medici-era fortress that houses the Volterra jail where the men are imprisoned, has performed a variety of Italian spectacles and tragedies   As a byproduct of that success, though prison conditions are generally deplorable in Italy, (which has a 65% return to prison rate similar to most of Europe), for those who engage in the Theatre Programs, it’s about 10%.

The Italians love art so much, the rumor goes, that the prisoners would rather risk an arrest than not show their performances to other Italians. Many shows tour and many prisoners work outside during the day. And believe it or not over half the 205 prisons in Italy have acting companies. Compagnia della Fortezza has won some of Italy’s most prestigious theatre awards and houses a gourmet restaurant where prisoners work and serve food to the public.

“For 21 years, director Amando Punzo has dedicated himself to art behind bars. Punzo has embarked on a challenging repertoire for the company, including “plays based on works by Brecht, Peter Handke, and even the tale of Pinocchio.”  He says that it is not therapy that drives him but creating good theatre. Said Director Punzo, “It’s not about giving the inmates an outlet or a recreational break. It’s work.”  The side effect of theatre programs behind bars are self-respect, community building and a love for the stage.”

The photo displayed above, is one of many in a photo essay by Clara Vannuci, an Italian photographer who has documented in amazing pictures the essence of Director Amando Punzo’s vision. Photographer Vannuci relayed how she asked a prisoner why no one tried to escape. The response reflected how much theatre has the potential to change lives:  “Why should I run? Where would I go? Twenty years I’ve lived in prison. Now I have something to live for. Life has meaning.”

 

 

COMMENTARY: PRISON CORPS. MOVE IN ON “ALTERNATIVES TO PRISON”

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Daily Beast article; 12/27/15

PARTS II: ARE GPS BRACELETS AN ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO INCARCERATION?

This is an introduction  to an issue which has been brewing within the criminal justice system, but only now is reaching the general public: What do GPS bracelets accomplish and should they be a mainstay of “alternatives to incarceration programs”.

One of the two biggest suppliers of GPS bracelets is the Private Prison Goliath, the GEO Group, which is positioning itself to survive any significant reduction in nationwide imprisonment (through its recentky acquired subsidiary, Behavioral Interventions).

For many politicians, GPS bracelets that provide the location of “supervised” individuals are the future of “alternatives to incarceration”. But many observers feel that an alternative to incarceration should have a substantial rehabilitation component, which GPS bracelets themselves do not provide. Civil libertarians argue that before GPS bracelets were available, an individual’s right to privacy was less likely to be compromised (making the point that the government is engaging in classic “net widening”;  ultimately interfering  in the lives of more individuals, and at a  more intense level).

Many argue that leaving individuals in there own homes is no guarantee that criminal activity will not continue or that the individual may remove the device and walk away. My concern has been more limited, that in regards to drug use or sales, leaving an individual at home to use their drugs or supply others, is foolhardy (and certainly provided no incentive in itself to reduce or eliminate drug abuse).

[For a fuller description of the controversy surrounding the use of GPS bracelet devices, see the Daily Beast article, "Here's what the World Will Look Like After Mass Incarceration", by Sarah Shourd".] 


PART 1: PRISON CORPS. READYING SELVES TO PROVIDE “ALTERNATIVE TO PRISON”

There has been a recent outcry from politicians who have only recently joined the “Alternatives To Prison” Movement to close down existing private prisons. The call for closure is based on well-documented cases of abuse and neglect at the two major Private Prison Corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

While the call to close private prisons appears to be succeeding, private prison corporations are hardly closing up shop. They are merely moving on to greener pastures in the “Alternatives to Prison’ Reform Movement”.

In an article from Bloomberg Business, Matt Stroud describes What Private Prisons Companies Have Done to Diversify in the Face of Sentencing Reform” Mr. Stroud’s answer is that they are investing in offender rehabilitation services or Alterenatices to Prison Programs. It seems ludicrous for these predator corporations to be making such a move, but it has already begun.

According to the Bloomberg article, “GEO Group in 2011, acquired Behavioral Interventions, the world’s largest producer of monitoring equipment for people awaiting trial or serving out probation or parole sentences. It followed GEO’s purchase in 2009 of Just Care, a medical and mental health service provider which bolstered its GEO Care business that provides services to government agencies.  “Our commitment is to be the world’s leader in the delivery of offender rehabilitation and community reentry programs, which is in line with the increased emphasis on rehabilitation around the world,” said GEO chairman and founder George Zoley during a recent earnings call. Brian W. Ruttenbur, a managing director at CRT Capital Group’s research division, says that neither GEO or CCA will be significantly hurt by sentencing reform in the near future.”

One has to wonder what beneifits will befall our communities if these giant corporations are allowed to do business in what has traditionally been a relatively small scale community-run endeavor. As to whether state or local government will buy into the “Mass Alternative to Prison Industry, is yet to be determined.

 

 

COMMENTARY

DRUG COURTS ARE FOR DRUG ADDICTS/UNLESS THEY’RE NOT

reentrycourtRecent 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. Continue reading

Commentary

A NEW YEAR’S VISION: EVIDENCE-BASED SENTENCING FOR ALL

FORMER SERVICEMAN STANDS BEFORE "VETERANS' COURT" JUDGE

FORMER SERVICEMAN STANDS BEFORE “VETERANS’ COURT” JUDGE

It is the New Year and so it is customary to envision what we should accomplish in the the next year. Instead, allow me to envision a new evience-based sentencing system in place across the U.S. Let’s assume for a moment that only those truly deserving remain in prison or jail (hypothetically a fraction of those currently incarcerated). That would leave the Sentencing Judges with the critical task od deciding what do they do with those who commit criminal offenses. How would they sentence those convicted of a crime in a fair, humane and rational manner.

Actually the antecedents of such a sentencing system  go back more than 25 years to the dawn of the Drug Court era. It was widely understood that the sentencing and supervision of drug offenders wasn’t working. There was little coordination in the court’s dealing with the drug offender, the offender rarely saw the same judge or court personnel twice, there was little court or offender accountability and altogether inadequate rehabilitation services available.(Monograph No.2, of the 1999 NDCI Monograph Series, “Drug Court Systems”, Jeffrey Tauber)

Following the example of the Drug Court, our futuristic sentencing system would have the same judge and court team deal with the sentenced offender (to the extent possible), as part of a seamless supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation system, that runs from sentencing, through custody, through community supervision, to the very conclusion of the case. Continue reading

COMMENTARY

POPE URGES THE NEW YEAR TO BE A HOLY YEAR OF AMNESTY FOR PRISONERS

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.12.12 PMPope Francis continues to bring the attention of the world to the plight of the poor and the imprisoned. In his annual peace message he urged policy-makers  to overcome what he called the “globalization of indifference”.

In his Annnual Peace Message just released, the Pope has urged all governents to  consider granting a Holy Year of Amnesty for the most vulnerable: the poor, the sick, migrants, prisoners and the elderly.

“On the institutional level, indifference to others and to their dignity, their fundamental rights and their freedom, when it is part of a culture shaped by the pursuit of profit and hedonism, can foster and even justify actions and policies which ultimately represent threats to peace,”

 Specifically he urged governments to consider urgent measures to improve conditions of prisoners, especially those awaiting trial. He called for governments to abolish the death penalty and consider alternatives to incarceration as well as a Holy Year amnesty., In the message, Francis called for concrete and “courageous gestures” from governments in this, his Holy Year of Mercy, to find jobs for the unemployed, to review laws so that migrants are welcomed, to relieve the debt of poor countries and to ensure that the sick receive necessary treatment.

[A previous Commentary has given voice to the Pope's views on crime and imprisonment]

COMMENTARY

WHY DRUG COURT IS NOT A SILVER BULLET

Dr.Doug Marlow,

Dr.Doug Marlow, Chief of Science, Policy and Law, NADCP

If you follow the comments of governors and other state policy makers these days, it appears that they have signed on to the notion that drug courts are the answer to prison overpopulation, high crime rates, and increased recidivism (and that may be the short list). In reading about their support for drug courts, I am cheered by their adoption of an important  innovation that I along with others pioneered some twenty-five years ago. But I am disheartened by their misunderstanding of the significance and applicability of drug court to all criminal offenders.

Drug abuse is a good example of the failure of the “one size fits all” philosophy in the criminal justice world.  As tempting as it may be to lock onto drug court treatment as a silver bullet that works with all offenders, drug court isn’t cost-effective, appropriate, or productive as a treatment alternative for most criminal offenders (or most drug offenders). While drug courts are the most intensive “alternatie to incarceration” available for drug abusers, they should not be the only effective treatment option for the drug abuser.

Optimally, we should think of the drug court as the anchor and the most intensive in a series of  treatment/rehabilitation tracks available for the different levels of drug abuse encountered. A Drug Court System could provide a series of progressively more intensive versions of the Drug Court model, beginning with a face to face encounter with a judge, and possible diversion from the criminal justice system, and culminating at the other end of the spectrum, with a fully implemented drug court program.

As described by Dr. Doug Marlow, Chief of Science, Policy & Law, at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (see: NADCP argues for Evidence-based tracks), most drug offenders are not drug dependent and shouldn’t be part of an intensive drug court program. Dr.Marlow estimates that 60 to 80% of drug offenders do not need a drug court’s intensive treatment.That means that more than half of drug offenders should be going somewhere else  besides drug court for their treatment and rehab needs.

At the very least, drug courts need to be modified (as Dr. Marlow suggests) to deal with the majority of criminal offenders, who are drug abusers, but not drug dependent. Whether in an expanded drug court system or an existing probation structure, we need to deal with the whole person in a scientific, evidence-based sentencing system (whatever we end up calling it), where individual levels of risk and need are determined, and appropriate supervision and treatment responses apply.

In practical terms, it appears that we over-treat drug abuse and pay too little attention to cognitive behavioral needs and rehabilitative therapies that have proven successful. In essence what Dr. Marlowe and his scientific brethren have been telling us is that traditional Drug Court is not the answer to most offenders’ treatment and rehab needs.

[Note: drug courts reach only about 5% of drug offenders (which is far from what is needed); there continues to be an appalling failure to develop significant and appropriate treatment and rehabilitation tracks for non-dependent drug abusers specifically, and non-drug abusers in general]

 

COMMENTARY

HOW I KNOW PROP. 47 IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO

[One in a series of articles on California's Prop 47; reducing less serious felony offenses,(drug and non-drug) to misdemeanors]

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon

 San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has been quoted as saying, “The [Criminal Justice] System isn’t broke  because of Prop 47, the System was broke before Prop. 47″.  To hear San Francisco District Attorney and former Police Chief  Gascon make such a bold statement is surprising, and more than that, a challenge to those of us working in the Criminal justice System across the nation.

 I agree with District Attorney Gascon. Prop. 47 is a huge change in course for a  criminal justice system that is used to increasing penalties and consequences for drug users for over a century. Over the past forty years, these less serious drug felonies have become a big part of the criminal justice system’s food chain (and we are paying for it with much needed community resources and overflowing prisons and jails).

 Clearly, the courts are a critical tool for getting the drug addicted into treatment and keeping them there. But one dosesn’t need a felony offense and the threat of prison to get it the job done. I have watched from my perch as a judicial officer since 1985, and while drug addiction is a  very serious medical and public health problem, drug possession offenses are being over-charged and over-incarcerated by the criminal justice system, even if its intent is to encourage sobriety.

I developed the Oakland Drug Court in 1990 to try to bring reason to a broken system. I went to Washington D.C. and founded the National Assocaition of Drug Court Professionals, to take that rational approach to the national level. Before returning to California in 2001, I wrote a mongraph, “Rational Drug Policy Reform” ( Center for Problem-Solving Courts, 2001). In it I proposed a simple but critical change in the law; the reduction of drug possssion felonies to misdemeanors (Chapter 2, pp. 7-11). Continue reading

COMMENTARY

San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a progoram participant with an award

San Francisco Parole Reentry Court Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), presents a program participant with an award

THE SUCCESS OF CAL.PROP. 47 REFORM WILL NOT IMPACT DRUG COURTS

California’s PROP. 47 did many things and did most of them right. According to Stanford Law School’s “One Year Progress Report”‘ released on Oct 29th, as to PROP 47 cases; recidvism is down, incarceration is down, felony charges are down, and court and
custody costs are down.This is what criminal justice reform looks like.

The whole world should be watching as Prop. 47 is implemented. It reduces drug possession offenses and relatively minor property crimes to misdemeanors. It allows those with felony records to petittion the court to reduce their offenses to misdemeanors (and dismiss the offense where appropriate), opening up new opportunities to those stigmatized with a felony conviction. It saves Caifornia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, freeing jails and prisons for those incorrigible and dangerous offenders who need to be there. It decriminalizes drug possession without legalizing serious drug use. Continue reading

COMMENTARY

Some of the participant/clients of the an Francisco Parole Reentry Court, a Community-Based Court Program

Some of the participant/clients of the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court, a Community-Based Court Program

 

BUILDING TRADITIONAL COMMUNITY JUSTICE INTO COURTS

October 19, 2015

This article is part of a series on my website: reentrycourtsolutions.com  called “NEW DIRECTIONS” (viewed on right), describing “Alternative Visions to Western Criminal Justice Systems”; seeking to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justice.

An article in the Huffington Post proposes a novel alternative to the existing prisons system, prisons that are run by non-profit organizations (Huffington Post, “Nonprofit Floats Unusual Alternative To Private Prison”). The author, Saki Knafo, describes how “Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world.” Continue reading

Four Roles of a Judge in a Community-Based Court

The following article was published in 2009, in an attempt to define the importance of the Judge within the framework of a Community-Based Court (Drug, Mental Health, DUI Court, etc.), describing both the importance and limitations of the judicial position.  

  Download PDF 

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INTRODUCTION

About fifteen years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in a judge’s manual (J. Tauber, Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual, CJER; 1994).  I wrote, ” A drug Court provides direction and focus through the leadership of a single judge”.  A statement writ large, and in retrospect, an overstatement of the importance of the drug court judge.  For while, the drug court judge is an important reason for the success of the drug court, he or she acts more an enabler than director.  The major actor is “community” itself.

In effect, the drug court judge creates an environment in which successful drug court “communities” can thrive; where a “drug court team” comes together to institutionalize community-based structures for long-term success, and where a “community ” of drug court practitioners and participants exert systemic control over substantial numbers of serious drug offenders. So I suppose, if I were to write a definition of a Drug Court Judge today, it might simply read, ” a judge is the first among equals in a “drug court community”. [Note: the Drug Court Judge is generally described as a drug court practitioner and a member of the “Drug Court Team”, unless otherwise indicated.)

Over the past fifteen years much has happened in the drug court field.  Over 2500 drug courts and other problem solving courts have been established.  Both NADCP and NDCI now serve the field.  And while I presided over my first Drug Court in 1990, I’ve learned a great deal over the years watching, listening and talking to thousands of drug court practitioners and participants across the country and around the globe.  The world of the Drug Court, as well as the drug court practitioner and participant have changed irrevocably and continue to evolve.

I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court described is already in place to a substantial extent in every Drug Court in this country. We don’t always recognize the characteristics that define these court programs as community-involved, institutionalized, or systemic, but they are there.  And while not all Drug Courts or Problem-Solving Courts have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that most successful ones are doing so. [Though the analysis focuses largely on the Drug Court, it is in most cases equally applicable to Problem-Solving Courts in general.]

This article is designed to give you a candid insider’s analysis of the role of the Drug Court Judge [DCJ]  in the Community-Based Drug Court.  In it, I will attempt to discuss the political, emotional, psychological and personal issues that many drug court or problem-solving court judges face.   I will provide straightforward text and then one judge’s perspective (found in bold type) Continue reading

LAW AND MORALITY IN DRUG COURTS

September 30,2015

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.44.52 AMI concur strongly with the recently passed New York State legislation finding Drug Court Judges unqualified to make certain treatment decisions. In my 2001 monograph, “Rational Drug Policy Reform: A Resorce Guide”, I spoke of the Drug court and the Drug Court Judge’s role “to motivate the drug abuser to comply with treatment requirements”, and concluded “ drug courts recognize that drug abuse is not primarily a criminal justice problem, but that the courts are a necessary component of its solution”.

“In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case, Robinson v. California laid the groundwork for the drug court model. In Robinson, Justice Stewart speaking for the majority held that:

“It is unlikely that any State at this moment in history would attempt to make it a criminal offense for a person to be mentally ill, or a leper, or to be afflicted with a venereal disease. A State might determine that the general health and welfare require that the victims of these and other human afflictions be dealt with by compulsory treatment, involving quarantine, confinement, or sequestration. But, in the light of contemporary human knowledge, a law, which made a criminal offense of such a disease, would doubtless be universally thought to be an infliction of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Being an addict would no longer be a “moral affliction”, but be legally recognized as having a disease that needed treatment. While being in possession of illegal drugs was not a status offender and could be punished as a crime, from Robinson onward, treatment would become more acceptable and in some cases the preferred approach to the drug possessor. According to commentators, the Robinson decision spurred both the Nixon and Carter administrations to develop non-penal responses to drug offenders. In the 1970’s for example, TASC, a nationwide federal initiative, was designed to provide a bridge between the addict and the criminal justice system, providing treatment rather than punishment for the drug offender. Continue reading