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

EXCERPT NO. 6: CREATING A SCIENCE-BASED INSTITUTE; 1998

Being the best advocacy organization and lobbying outfit in town takes you just so far. In late 1997, I began to advocate for the creation of the NATIONAL DRUG COURT INSTITUTE (NDCI), that would move NADCP towards a more science and research based approach.

 Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, Former Chair of NADCP, (now U.S. Senator) Claire McCaskill, and NADCP Founder Judge Jeffrey Tauber speak at Ceremony announcing formation og National Drug Court Institute at the White House, Dec. 10, 1997

Ceremony at Roosevelt Room of White House Announcing Establishment of the NADCP National Drug Court Institute (NDCI). In photo, Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, Former Chair of NADCP, (now U.S. Senator) Claire McCaskill, and NADCP Founder Judge Jeffrey Tauber; Dec. 10, 1997

AN INTRODUCTION TO AN “OH SO FAMILIAR” STRANGER

I was to be introduced to Martin Sheen, who was scheduled to be our celebrity speaker at the close of the D.C. Conference of 98’. I found him sitting over coffee with another man, before Martin was to go on stage. The man looked familiar. I thought him a D.A. or Probation officer from back home, in Oakland, California. His name was Tom Gorham and he was an associate of Dr. Davida Coady, an epidemiologist who ran the Options, Inc., treatment program in Berkeley.

Tom cheerfully introduced himself as a frequent flyer on Alameda County Courts’ Drug and Alcohol Merry-Go-Round. It was only then that I realized that this impressive well-dressed person was the same man who had appeared slovenly and unkempt in court on drug and/or alcohol charges on dozens of occasions over the years. He had only recently found sobriety through Judge Carol Brosnahan’s Berkeley Rehabilitation Program run through Options, Inc. He had graduated from Options, Inc. and was currently a counselor, under the direction of Dr. Davida Coady.

The truly remarkable part of this story, is that Tom went on to become the CEO of Options, received his Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling, and was married to his mentor, Dr. Davida Coady, by then Drug Court Judge Carol Brosnahan at her home in Berkeley.

Though an extraordinary tale, it made me think of the tens of thousands of offenders (if not hundreds of thousands) that are misdiagnosed by judges, district attorneys, defense counsel, probation officers and treatment providers. It reminded me that I, nor my brethren were seers, and that I often made serious errors of judgment about an offender’s potential for successful rehabilitation.

Finally, it reinforced my commitment to involve NADCP in developing scientific approaches to our courts. So they could do a better job at diagnosing the levels of drug abuse and criminality of drug court participants, and provide for their rehabilitation. It was in an odd way, a wake up call, reminding me that the courts needed to be science-based, and systems-oriented (or what is now called evidence-based) in their sentencing decisions, relying on scientific tools and analysis to assist in doing this critical work.

PLANNING A SCIENCE-BASED NATIONAL DRUG COURT INSTITUTE

From almost the beginning of NADCP, I had pictured some arm of the organization dedicated to academic endeavors, evaluations, and research projects. It was a side of NADCP that was clearly missing.

After our ’97 Conference in D.C., I took stock of what had been accomplished. NADCP was clearly on the map in D.C. It had supporters both in the leadership of both democratic and republican parties. We had more than doubled federal drug court funding over the previous year; we were increasing the number of drug courts exponentially; we were creating partnerships with state organizations and judicial and executive agencies, our conferences and mentor site trainings were breaking new ground and pulling the field together, and now we had our own offices and an expanded staff.

The one area where we had not made much headway was in establishing NADCP as a source for credible research and scientific information. We also weren’t doing the sophisticated training and education in the field that we needed to. To some extent, research, education, and information resources were flowing to American University’s Justice Program, because it had a university’s imprimatur. We needed to somehow create our own certificate of approval.

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EXCERPT NO. 7: RIDING THE WAVE; 1999

There is a time when riding a wave, you reach the crest, and are on top of the world in a matter of speaking. That’s what it felt like to be leading the drug court movement in the late 90s. Getting ready for the dismount, or in my case, my exit from NADCP/NDCI was as difficult as the ride itself.

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Senior NDCI Judicial Trainers, Judges Bill Meyer, Jeff Tauber, Robert Russell, and Susan Finlay, singing off-key at graduation dinner held at D.C. restaurant, La Cologne

 

REACHING THE TOP

By 1999, the Drug Court field was akin to a giant wave. It was my 4th year running NADCP from D.C., I spent much of my time crisscrossing the country laying the ground work for a national criminal justice reform movement. I was hanging on for dear life, the most exhausting and exhilarating period of my career.

As the founder of both NADCP and NDCI, I believed I was leading the most far-reaching criminal justice reform movement in more than a generation. I was making major decisions and leading in the development of new initiatives, driving the organization toward a vision that existed, if only in my own mind. It was also becoming obvious to me that I was chronically exhausted and that my physical efforts couldn’t last. But I felt blessed to be the leader of NADCP, at the time that the Drug Court Movement blossomed.

I had accepted the greatest challenge of my life. And I appeared to be succeeding. There was an explosion of interest in NADCP and Drug Courts. To my mind, that was a causal factor in the extraordinary change in attitude taking place within the criminal justice system and society in general, toward drug users over the next decade.

According to the DOJ’s National Institute of Justice, at the end of the field’s first five-year period (1989-1993) there were a total of 19 existing drug courts.  From 1994, when NADCP was founded, until the end of 1998 (a second five year period), 329 new drug courts had been established (for a grand total of 347 drug courts, or an 18 fold increase over the initial five year pre-NADCP period).

NDCI’s BREAKTHROUGH YEAR

Long term, my vision was of NDCI taking a leadership role in the larger criminal justice reform movement, and setting up long-term projects and hopefully reform institutes to deal with such critical issues as systemic approaches to drug abuse and criminality, alternatives to prison and incarceration for all offenders, and the decriminalization of the drug user.

NDCI had received a $ 2 million grant to spend as we and ONDCP thought appropriate. 1999 was our opportunity to take off and overwhelm the field with innovative science based projects. And we did just that. From the first, I saw the development of NDCI, our Education, Scholarship and Research based arm, as a means of shifting NADCP’s gears from practitioner advocacy toward a more credible, science and research based policy making institution. Continue reading

EXCERPT NO. 8: REACHING BEYOND DRUG COURT; 2000

By the end of 1999, NADCP/NDCI had become a Washington Institution, and the undisputed leader of the Drug Court World. In 2000, we expanded NADCP/NDCI’s influence into other criminal justice reform areas. Most importantly we achieved acceptance and support from all fifty state chief justices in a unanimous resolution that institutionalized drug courts across the nation. At the same time, my tenure as NADCP/NDCI’s leader was coming to a close.

Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey receives award from NADCP Founder Judge Jeffrey Tauber at 5th Annual National Conference

Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is presented with an award by NADCP Founder Judge Jeffrey Tauber, for his support in starting NDCI, at the 5th Annual NADCP National Conference.

A BANNER YEAR FOR NADCP/NDCI

NADCP and NDCI had an extraordinary year in 2000. I designed and supervised the first Discipline-Based Judicial Officer Trainings which served as a model for other Discipline-Based Trainings to come (receiving a 6.57 on a 1 to 7 rating continuum). With West managing the non-judicial trainings, NDCI delivered twelve discipline-based, video-intensive weeklong drug court training programs in 2000, for over 600 practitioners from 47 states and nations abroad.

Based on the success of the Discipline Based Trainings, the Department of Justice funded nineteen three-part workshops for fifty-seven (57) jurisdictions across the nation (each jurisdictional team composed of six to eight members), that proved to be nearly as successful.

Publications were being distributed across the nation on an average of one per month. The Research Agenda was moving forward in the development of standardized tools for drug court researchers and practitioners. NADCP’s reached out to other fields and their practitioners and achieved a high level of collaboration and cooperation across the nation. Participants at our National Conference totaled 3,300 (a number we were not to repeat for nearly a decade).

In 2012, Professor Kathleen Halle, of Auburn University, devoted her book on exceptional non-profit organizations, “How Information Matters”, entirely to the startup of NADCP, the “Champion” of NGOs”. She found NADCP “to be the best among extraordinary organizations; “whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the non-profit world.”

PROBLEM-SOLVING: EVOLVING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

I believed that we were at the center of a movement with broader parameters than the drug court model. The more I became aware of the realities of the criminal justice system, the more I became convinced that NADCP/NDCI could provide assistance and guidance to other related courts and fields that were beginning to develop. A plethora of specialty courts were being modeled after the drug court that would be in need of assistance (i.e., DUI, Reentry, Domestic Violence, Elder, Homeless, as well as, Family and Juvenile Drug Courts).

It was obvious that drug court models would be most effective if they reached those most in need, many of which were in state and federal prison systems. I was particularly interested in the possibility of the drug court model being used with non-drug offenders. I saw the development of NDCI, our science and research based arm, as a means of shifting gears toward broader national policy goals, as well as trainings with more sophisticated and effective techniques. [Our practitioner based trainings and monograph reflected that perspective.]

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EXCERPT NO. 9: REENTERING THE REAL WORLD; 2001

2001 was a difficult year. The only good part for me was that I was weaning myself away from my 80 hour workweek. I had my music to return to and for that I was grateful. I played my tenor saxophone and harmonica in a number of bands around the D.C. area (and on many a night, played solo jazz saxophone to the seagulls on the Alexandria Pier).

The conflict and duality of NADCP Founding President Judge Jeffrey Tauber

Expressing the duality of law and music in a life; NADCP Founding President Jeffrey Tauber (Photo Art by Frank Tapia)

 

RESIGNATION FROM NADCP/NDCI

NADCP had become the organization I had dreamed of building, an accepted Institution, a part of the Washington Establishment. I intended to develop projects dealing with Reentry from Prison, DUI Offenses, and Sentencing Systems that went beyond the Drug Court idiom. But the reality was that since the 2000 Conference in San Francisco, I was virtually handcuffed by the Board, under constant scrutiny, with almost no opportunity to move ahead on new projects; in essence a lame-duck President.

Before the end of year 2000 it became clear that senior staff members had wrested control of the dialogue with the Board, and were not going to let go until they got what they were after, my resignation. I decided it was best for me to concede the inevitable and accept “early retirement”.

I submitted my resignation from the Presidency of NADCP, to take effect in early 2001. I would remain as President at least in name, until a new President took over. I also co-chaired a committee screening for my successor.

I knew that West needed to stay at NADCP and that his outsized charm and drive would keep NADCP as a major presence in the field, but his possible selection as a successor was never in issue. There were too many fresh accusations floating around about his stewardship of NDCI and he was too young and new to the job to vie for that position. I never did get to the bottom of the rumors swirling around West. At the time, I believed them to be spread by jealous colleagues that were piqued by his quick ascension to crown prince of NADCP.

When I first told West of my intention to resign, he appeared stricken. He argued against it and when I wouldn’t budge, he proposed that the two of us set up our own organization. I was moved by his offer, but I knew that it would be a mistake. I didn’t want to further weaken NADCP by removing its two mainstays, (and truthfully I didn’t want to compete with or diminish the organization I had worked so hard to create). I remained on the Board of NADCP as an Emeritus member, to monitor the organization, and help West stay on his leadership track.

HELPING TO CHOOSE MY SUCCESSOR

My last significant responsibility at NADCP was to assist in the selection of its new CEO (the board decided that my successor would not be a President, but a more malleable CEO). I screened dozens of résumés with members of a Board selection committee. Most of the applicants appeared to be limited in experience, expertise, and background.

We ultimately came down to a single applicant who appeared to have the drug court background required (she had been Gary, Indiana’s first Drug Court Judge), and had a promising low-key managerial style more in keeping with NADCP’s increasingly bureaucratic structure. With Judge Karen Freeman-Wilson’s ascension to the leadership of NADCP, I began to look for other avenues for my energies. Continue reading

EXCERPT NO. 10: THE MEANING OF ONE’S LEGACY

Sometimes life gives a person the opportunity to do something truly extraordinary. I saw an opportunity, took it; accepting the challenge, risking all, sacrificing much, to move the drug court field as far as possible.

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Reentry Court participants congratulate first Reentry Court graduation.

THE IMPORTANCE OF NADCP AND DRUG COURTS TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Drug Courts (and their progeny Problem-Solving Courts) have had a profound effect upon the criminal justice system and the attitudes of those in it, as well as the media, and the public in general

I think it fair to suggest that the reform movements of the past decade, to decriminalize drug use, turn offenders away from prisons towards alternative sentencing, and emphasize reentry resources, all owe their success (at least in part) to the positive environment that drug courts have helped create over the past twenty five years.

There could be no better testimonial as to how far drug courts have come in changing the national dialogue than President Obama’s special reference to “Drug Courts”, in his major criminal justice reform speech of July 14th 2015, “We should invest in alternatives to prison, like Drug Courts and treatment and probation.”

NADCP itself, waxes eloquent when it talks about the progress it and the Drug Court Movement have made over the past twenty years (see: http://www.nadcp.org/learn/about-nadcp) “Today with 2,734 Drug Courts and another 1,122 problem-solving courts (mental health courts, community courts, reentry courts, DWI courts, etc.) in operation, NADCP has forever changed the face of the justice system. As the premiere national resource for Drug Court practitioners, NADCP established a specialized Institute in December 1997. Today, the “National Drug Court Institute” is the preeminent source for comprehensive training and cutting-edge technical assistance to the entire Drug Court Field. Since its inception, the institute has trained 36,641 drug court professionals in all 50 states and U.S. territories as well as seven countries and developed 37 publications, disseminating them to 456,166 professionals worldwide.”

NADCP has admirers in the academic world as well; Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University in her book, “How Information Matters (Georgetown University Press, 2011) focuses entirely on NADCP, the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in Washington D.C. Professor Hale describes the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) as “the best among extraordinary organizations; whose structure, initiatives, strategies, and planning define excellence in the non-profit world.”

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Vision 6: Longer Sentences = Diminishing Returns


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It’s always been assumed that putting criminal offenders away for longer sentences would reduce their opportunities to commit crimes. What that seemingly obvious construct leaves out is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Where those sent to prison ultimately are a greater weight to a free society than those released into the community. Sending more offenders into custody for longer terms often results in a lack of resources for critical community needs such as public health and education. How much more safety do we realize by doubling an auto burglar’s prison term, and what services are being denied the community by doing so.

There is an annolgy to be made to the current panic over the “Ebola Crisis” in the U.S. Three persons have been infected and one has died in a nation of over 300 million. And there are cries to close down schools, work places, and other community gathering sites. Never mind that over fifty thousand americans were killed over the last three years because of the Flu (a more highly contagious illness, airborne, as opposed to Ebola which is contracted only by direct contact with bodily fluids). We panic as a nation and a people and resist logic in favor of an emotional response. I am not a sociologist, but it seems to me that that a new threat no matter how remote, makes us feel that we’re not in control and ultimately not safe in an environment that we have spared no expense to be as safe as humanly possible. (There has been no real, massive threat of illness and death to Americans since the Spanish Influenza Pandemic at the end of World War I).

When I had first begun my Oakland Drug Court in 1990, I had occasion to connect with a number of other professions to get out the word on the Drug Court Initiative. I was at one of the Nationwide Probation Conferences given in the early 1990′s as a speaker. I decided to attend a Legislators’ forum, where experience state legislators talked to their new breathen about how best to deal with  the issue of Crime. The first thing they told the new legislators was to drop a bill in the hopper to increase the term of incarceration for driving under the influence. Secondly they were advises to get on the bandwagon to increase terms of incarceration, to make them invulnerable to attacks from the right that they were soft on crime.

For the offender, longer is certainly not better: As the years go by, inmates often become more distant from their families and communities, less employable, and more deeply ingrained in prison culture, all factors that hamper a successful reentry into the community. And how can it be realistically argued that increasing the length of felony sentences is a rational decision rather than an emotional one (In support of that assertion, research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served contributed to half of the prison growth between 1998 and 2010).

I would argue that the public’s hunger for safety (in California, 1000 sentencing bills were passed by the legislature over the past three decades), is a serious problem that we need to come to grips with. How long is enough? Why do we have an almost impenetrable web of sentencing laws in most states. State sentencing grids are a constantly changing labyrinth of overlapping, entangling, and bewildering law that are mostly understood by the few. These are unacceptable circumstances that need to be addressed by governors  and their legislatures, through  Sentencing Commissions and other mechanisms, that can rationally and reasonably review, clarify and simplify our maze of sentencing laws. Hopefully when rationality has returned to criminal justice sentencing practices, we will see appropriate terms of incarceration imposes across the nation.. 

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These observation are to be part of a book to be published on the History of NADCP and the Drug Court Movement. 

 

 

Vision 5: Veteran’s Court; a Harbinger of Things to Come

Oct. 6, 2014

I spent the summer describing alternative justice systems that exist around the world and how they often are community based ( described as “Restorative Justice” in the U.S). I’ve begun a new series on “Alternative Visions of Western Criminal Justice Systems”  that seeks to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justiceScreen Shot 2014-10-05 at 9.17.44 PM

I was a new Judge in 1990, assigned to the existing Drug Court, a Reagan Era monstrosity that was designed to get drug offenders from Arraignment to prison as quickly as possible. I was overwhelmed by the level of need for treatment and supervision by drug dependent offenders in the city of Oakland, and decided that we would make treatment the major focus of a new drug court model.

We opened the floodgates and placed 1156 participants in the program over the first full year of the Oakland F.I.R.S.T Drug Court, (with spectacular results, Evaluations of Oakland”s F.I.R.S.T Drug Court: 1991-1993).  Unfortunately the treatment, as limited as it was, was only available to a limited contingent of drug offenders and not at all to those without a drug offense charged or a drug abuse problem. The issue of who is denied treatment because they don’t fit into a predetermined treatment program bothered me then and bothers me today. I am convinced  that Drug Courts and other Community-Based Courts (also called Problem-Solving Courts) are but an intermediate step in the development of a new kind of comprehensive sentencing system that will be the accepted mainstream alternatives model in the future

All serious offenders (whether felons or misdemeanants) need to be engaged in a sophisticated sentencing system that will tailor the offender’s sentence to their need for rehabilitation (i.e. drug and/or mental health treatment, education, job training, etc.) as well as their risk to the community. Rather than categorize the individual, the courts, relevant agencies, and community need to be part of a community-based sentencing process that deals with the individual rather than a predetermined subset of offenders (who may receive intensive treatment in a Drug, Mental Health, Driving Under The Influence, Domestic Violence, or other Problem Solving Court). 

We’ve had the opportunity to test this thesis in the Veteran’s Courts (and to a lesser extent Reentry Courts) that have proliferated across the nation over the past several years. Veteran’s Courts treat veterans charged with criminal offenses, period. They do not reject serious or violent offenders. Offenders are not categorized or rejected for failure to be a drug offender or mentally deficient. They welcome all offenders who are in need of special support, monitoring or rehabilitation. They are assisted by volunteers from the community at large and the Veteran’s Community in particular. They are not  pigeon-holed.They are simply recognized as individuals with problems that need attention.

Of course, we are willing to assist the veteran who has committed a criminal act very differently than we do the common criminal. But the way we approach the veteran’s offense is the key to successful alternatives to incarceration in the future. When we stop putting individuals in boxes, consider them as we do veteran’s, worthy of redemption, and treat them as human beings with critical needs, and ultimately as part of our communities, we will be on our way to a critical systemic change in how we deal with our criminal population.

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These observation are to be part of a book to be published on the History of NADCP and the Drug Court Movement. 

 

(CLICK TO SEE EXCERPTED BOOK CHAPTERS} 

 

 

Vision 4: Throw Out Violent Offender Limitations

Sept. 30, 2014

I spent the summer describing alternative justice systems that exist around the world and how they often are community based ( described as “Restorative Justice” in the U.S). I’ve begun a new series on “Alternative Visions of Western Criminal Justice Systems”  that seeks to show how traditional community-based systems can exist alongside current Western systems of criminal justice and improve our current systems by doing so.Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.00.33 PM

IT was May of 1996, and NADCP was having its first annual Conference in Washington D.C.  As NADCP’s founding President, it was a very big deal, and we had some of the top politicians in D.C. attending. Among them was Senator Joe Biden, now Vice President (then former Chairman of  the Senate Judiciary Committee). I remember talking to him about the federal legislation recently passed by the Congress while he was Judiciary Committee Chair (The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act), that limited Drug Court funding to nonviolent offenders.

I tried again (this had been a running dialogue with the Committee) to convince Senator Biden that restricting drug court participants to non-violent drug offenders would unnecessarily exclude those who need intensive supervision and treatment the most, who otherwise were on their way to prison or a long jail sentences. His response was that I was pushing too hard, that we would get there eventually, but that we should be content with getting help for those whose “rehabilitation the public will support”.

The need to go slow, and avoid violent offenders remains a serious weakness in many Community-Based Courts across the nation. It can be upsetting to visit or sit in as a visiting judge in a Problem-Solving Court made up substantially of middle class, educated, mostly white offenders, when others who are high risk/high need are passed over because of a prior conviction for a  violent offense. What’s worse is that while many in a drug court program are drug involved, the scientific research suggests that a majority would not be assessed as drug dependent (or addicted).

It’s hard to accept the notion that serious drug-dependent offenders are denied access to the highly structured and monitored Community-Based Courts because they have some history of violence . They are  exactly the demographic that would gain the most from intensive alternatives to prison. The scientific research (particular, out of the University of Cincinatti) all point to a slight increase in criminality for low risk offenders, while high risk offenders reduce their recidivism substantially, when provided with intense supervision and rehabilitative services. We need to take the next step and accept the challenge of making high risk/high need offenders primary participants in our  community-based court programs, without regard to their history of violence. As then Senator Biden suggested, we need to make the serious drug dependent offender a new population whose “rehabilitation the public will support”.

 

Vision 3: A ceremony to Honor the Healed

Sept. 22, 2014

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Colonial America, made up of many small, insular and stable communities, relied heavily on community-based or “alternative’ sanctions to enforce a strict social, economic, and religious code of behavior. While it’s true that some of those sanctions may now be considered unacceptable (i.e., corporal punishment), other forms of alternative sanctions are very much a part of the modern criminal justice system. The use of warnings, servitude, and restoring the victim, may be known by different names today (admonitions, restitution, community service), but share similar functions.

The Church and the Court were at the center of community social control. A trial “was an occasion for repentance and reintegration; a ritual for reclaiming lost sheep and restoring them to the flock”…It was a public, open affirmation of the rules and their enforcement; a kind of divine social theater.”(Lawrence Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, p.25 (1992).

The parallels to the Drug Court and other Problem Solving Courts could not be clearer. Living in a time when society has substantially broken down, where people lead isolated lives and where societal pressure may be minimal, the drug court provides a group structure for the drug user, providing support, rehabilitation, resources, and “community” where none had existed before.

Within that “community”, “alternative” or community-based sanctions have a new found importance. Sitting in the jury box for a day is the equivalent of wearing a dunce cap.  The admonition from the judge in front of the drug court community is a shaming that all understand. Most importantly,the rehabilitated drug-user is welcomed back into society at a very public graduation ceremony presided over by the judge and other community leaders (see above)

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Vision 1: Integrating Traditional Community Justice Into Penal Systems

September 8, 2014

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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.”

The idea is not so farfetched. Making offenders accountable and responsible for each others conduct and behavior is very close to what is done in traditional societies that control misbehavior with community based responses. There are courts across the country that are experimenting with offender communities making criminal justice decisions. In San Francisco, I was part of a nascent, but very successful Reentry Court (responsible for reintegrating high risk prisoners back into society). Our Reentry Court Team was able to enlist “honor role” participants’, as well as their ideas and recommendations, in setting up court procedures and developing appropriate responses to minor program violations (unfortunately the pilot program was discontinued due to fiscal constraints; New York Times, Oct. 8, 2011)

While many consider prisoner decision making the provence of prison gangs, I would suggest that if structured right, a Prison administered by a Non-Profit Corporation could play an important part in building traditional community responsibility and accountability into both our prisons and prisoner rehabilitation. (San Francisco Reentry Court: 87% Fewer Return  To Prison)

No. 12 in a Series: Why a Drug Court is not called a Community Court

August 25, 2014

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Early on, I came to see the drug court as just a part of the solution to misbehavior and criminal conduct. I saw community generated and sustained programs as being at the heart of real criminal justice reform, and drug court being the first true “Community Court”. By the time I got to Washington to set up NADCP in 1996, a small offshoot of drug court, called “Community Court” had been established in the heart of Manhattan, as part of a campaign to clean up the Times Square area. Organized by a New York State sponsored reform organization, the Center for Court Innovation, and with the support of financial institutions in the Times Square area, it had adopted the community court label for a court dealing with minor infractions and misdemeanors, that were committed mostly by derelicts and homeless people (whose very presence discouraged family tourism, a major goal of the programs backers). The program worked and remains a thriving and effective neighborhood based variation on drug court with fifty “Community Courts” or more across the nation.

Knowing the importance of names and the meaning we give them, I belatedly attempted to establish the broader community roots of drug courts by dedicating the 2nd Annual NADCP Conference in 1997 to an all inclusive concept of “Community Courts’, that included drug courts and other community based programs being developed across the nation. I wrote and distributed  a concept paper entitled “Introducing The Community Court Institute”, (an early precursor of the hugely successful “National Drug Court Institute”) that was distributed at the national conference.  I argued in a letter to Shay Bilchik, on September 26, 1996, (the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs) who was leading the Justice Departments project to define “Community Court”, that they should be described as a “Neighborhood Court” since they “are designed to reflect neighborhood concerns”

Unfortunately, the community court definition as  a neighborhood court dealing with minor offenses was too well established to be dislodged. The result; many drug courts and their progeny never saw their programs as community based, relying on community participation, or being responsible to their communities;  a problem that continues in many drug courts and similar programs to this day. In time I settled for the designation of Community-Based Court as being a substitute  for the all inclusive Community Court label. But I have always regretted the  lost opportunity to stamp Drug Court and its progeny as “community courts”

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No. 11 in a Series: A Drug Court Judge; the First Among Equals

August 18, 2014

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About  twenty years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in the first Drug Court manual to be published (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 as 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 themselves 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”.

I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court is already in place, to a substantial extent, in every Drug Court and Problem-Solving 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 have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that the most successful are doing so.

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