Anyone at all aware of criminal justice issues, knows that 2010 will be the beginning of a seismic change in the criminal justice system. There is immense national concern about prison overcrowding, prisoner reentry into the community, and the need to cut funding to prisons. Your Drug Court should already be a part of your community’s 2010 “reentry task force“. Federal and state funding is pouring into reentry processes, and Drug Court stands on the precipice of becoming the next generation comprehensive Drug Court, the Reentry/Drug Court. At the the 10 year Anniversary of the CCJ Resolution22/COSCA Resolution IV , it might be well to remember the people, organizations, and historical documents that are making this impossible dream possible.
It wasn’t necessarily going to work out this way. The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) weren’t terribly fond of special courts. They had a bad rap for consuming resources and creating judicial fiefdoms. When Drug Court came along twenty yeas ago, there was scepticism and even hostility from state bureaucracies and territorial paranoia from some drug court judges. But then it began to turn around. By the time the Clinton Administration had come on board, CCJ, COSCA and their partner, The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) had changed course and begun an effort to work with and provide guidance to the drug court field. Califronia, Florida and New York led the way, with limited financial, educational and technical assistance. But most states stood on the sidelines, reluctant to take a chance on the new kid on the block.
It wasn’t until 1999 that things really began to change. California’s State Court Administrator, Bill Vickrey, the newly installed President of COSCA, had shown a willingness to work with drug court practitioners in his own state; resourcing educational conferences and trainings, finding financial support to start over 100 California Drug Courts, and encouraging Drug Court Judges to take the lead in developing a powerful statewide grassroots movement. Dan Becker, then Utah’s State Court Administrator, co-chair of the CCJ/COSCA Drug Court task force, put it this way in a 2001 interview , “It started with an initiative by Bill Vickery, when he was the President of COSCA, to begin looking at emerging policy questions that Administrators and Chief Justices need to be concerned about, that put us in the position of anticipating issues rather than reacting to new issues.” Bill Vickrey and California Chief Justice Ron George (as well as others) took the lead in advocating for a joint CCJ/COSCA Resolution endorsing drug courts and the newly emerging courts to be known as problem-solving courts. What is truely extraordinary was the fact that all 50 Chief Justices and all 50 State Court Administrators went on to unanimously adopt that joint resolution.
In the 10 years since the “Resolution”was adopted, a new dynamic has been created within the criminal justice system. With the highest level of state court administration committed to the problem-solving model, drug courts and its progeny have enjoyed a ligitimacy that has translated into increased funding, political influence and respect that had eluded them in the past. Recently, The National Association of Drug Court Professionals elected Missouri Chief Justice Ray Price as its Board President, while a 2009 CCJ/COSCA Resolution reaffirmed its endorsement of drug courts, calling for the federal government to fund drug courts at the $250 million level. There are Drug Courts in every state, state program coordinators almost everywhere, and new problem-solving courts proliferating. Significantly, the California legislature has recently passed a “Parolee Reentry Court Program”, the biggest and most ambitious reentry/drug court project ever, funded with $10 million, to be administered by the California Administrative Office of the Courts. We should take this opportunity at the start of the new year to reflect on what has been accomplished over the past ten years, before we move on to the next-generation, comprehensive drug court, the reentry/drug court model.