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.
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.