Reprinted from December 2018

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]



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February 17, 2014

The federal Government has recently doubled down on their investment in drug courts. What was once a  $6 million federal program has grown to a major government project amounting to approximately one hundred million dollars.

As described in the Grant Publication,”The goal of the Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program is to build and/or expand drug court capacity at the state, local and tribal levels to reduce crime and substance abuse among high-risk, high need offenders. States, Local courts, Counties, Units of local government, and Indian tribal nations are eligible for 60 grants.

States that are looking to improve, expand or enhance drug court services statewide and/or financially support drug courts in local jurisdictions  are eligible for grants of up to $1.5 million over a three year period.

While not directly aimed at court-focused prison reform, it would not be difficult to design a grant project that would use its resources on offenders who were otherwise heading for prison. State agencies should take a long look at the money available under this and other federal programs, that can be used to reduce prison populations, drug abuse, and criminality in their communities.

“States applying for funding under this subcategory must demonstrate a statewide, data-driven strategy for reaching and expanding capacity of drug court options and services for nonviolent substance-abusing offenders, which may include: implementing new drug courts; reaching capacity of existing drug courts; and expanding/enhancing capacity of existing drug courts to reach specific or emerging offender populations with drug treatment needs. The support provided through such statewide awards must also be consistent with the evidence-based principles outlined above” (Drug Court Funding)

 All applications are due by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on March 18, 2014. 



ONDCP Director Announces Expansion of Drug Courts


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The Best Of: First described in April, 2013, the “ARK” project has now been confirmed to be a fully funded ONDCP sponsored initiative, hopefully providing a systemic approach to the sentencing of offenders that will be applied across the nation

[EDITOR’S NOTE::The “ARK” program described in the press release below, is not fully defined, but seems similar to an evidence based sentencing system, described in a 12 part article, “A Model Court Based Sentencing System” published on this site last year. Specifically, its reference to “a reform framework to assess offenders and sort them into a systemic continuum of evidence-based sentencing options” would be a wonderful new initiative for drug courts and sentencing systems, in general]

The following press release is from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP):

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, Gil Kerlikowske (see photo image on left of Director Kerlikowski) announced today that NADCP will receive a $1.4 million grant to expand the reach of Drug Courts and the groundbreaking justice reform model, the Annuals of Research and Knowledge on Successful Offender Management (ARK). Based on the Risk and Need Responsively theory, the ARK was designed as a reform framework to assess offenders and sort them into a systemic continuum of evidence-based sentencing options.  Today’s announcement represents a groundbreaking step towards significant justice reform across all points of the adult justice system.

The National Press Club speech was attended by justice leaders and policy experts from across the criminal justice spectrum. Representing NADCP was an incredible group of treatment court pioneers covering over twenty years of alternative sentencing innovation and leadership. Joining NADCP CEO West Huddleston were Board Chair Judge Robert Rancourt, Board Member Judge Pamela Gray, and former Board Chairs Judge Lou Presenza, Judge John Schwartz, and Judge Chuck Simmons.

“Drug Court is what real drug policy reform looks like,” said ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske. “By giving non-violent drug offenders a chance to reclaim their lives through treatment, we can finally begin to break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration in America. Every dollar we spend on supporting this type of drug policy reform pays dividends in safer and healthier communities later on.”

“Today, our vision of a solution-oriented justice system is significantly closer to becoming reality,” said NADCP CEO West Huddleston. “This funding will allow NADCP and its partners to put the ARK into practice. We remain grateful that through this funding, Congress and the Administration continues its commitment to expand the reach of Drug Courts and ensure that they remain a cornerstone of much needed criminal justice reform.”

“We look forward to taking the ARK to scale,” said NADCP Board Chair Judge Judge Robert Rancourt. “In doing so, NADCP commits to collaborating with leaders from the law enforcement, corrections, probation, prosecution, defense, substance abuse and mental health communities. Working together, we will build a comprehensive system that will forever change the delivery of effective justice in this country.”

To learn more about the ARK, watch NADCP Chief of Science, Law and Policy and ARK co-creator Dr. Doug Marlowe present during the NADCP 18th Annual Training Conference.




Professor Scores NADCP as “CHAMPION” in its Field

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on February 5,2012, describes a newly published book, “How Information Matters”,  by Professor Kathleen Hale of Auburn University and published by Georgetown University Press in 2011,  which singles out NADCP as the best among non-profit organizations in Washington D.C.

Professor Hale’s analysis describes  NADCP as the “Champion” Non-Profit Organization in its field. What does it have to do with reentry courts and court-based reentry systems. The answer is that it does and it doesn’t.

It 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. And I cannot agree more. I was there at the beginning of drug courts, as a drug court judge, and am still laboring in the fields, working to fulfill a vision that began for me, as first chair and then founding president of NADCP.  In the beginning, we created the “Ten Key Components” and Drug Court Mentor Sites, and planned NADCP’s projects, initiatives and strategies; so I know that  my fellow drug court pioneers feel as proud as I am of our accomplishments.

And those who came after us have truly done a superb job, in expanding drug courts and its progeny, problem-solving courts across the nation and around the world. They have built amazing public support for our “Champion” that has translated into much needed funding, and created wonderful new programs such as Veteran’s Courts, which thankfully are there to assist our Veterans in their time of need.

For me, it’s difficult to accept that my quest, the establishment of court-based reentry systems, that can staunch the flow of lives into our prisons, and salvage those that return broken, remains out of reach. I for one, salute all who have worked on our great labor of love, NADCP. But I long for this book’s sequel, the one that shows how we captured the holly grail of criminal justice, and achieved true prison reform through a partnership of the three C’s; Community, Corrections, and the Courts.

Early Conservative Support for Drug Courts

June 11, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.00.53 AMRichard A. Viguerie, a leading conservative figure, argues for Prison Reform, in an OP ED piece in the New York Times  (click on image on the left for article). He argues that “Conservatives known for being tough on crime should now be equally tough on failed, too-expensive criminal programs. They should demand more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety and the well-being of all Americans”.

While it’s wonderful that the conservative movement appears to support Prison and Sentencing Reform, the law enforcement community and its conservative allies provided key support for alternatives to prison (read: Drug Court)  as early as the mid 90’s.

I had the opportunity to observe this phenomenum up close. While I found limited local law enforcement and conservative support for Drug Court in the early 1990’s, the environment began to change by 1994. When I returned to D.C., as the President of the newly formed National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), the political climate had changed, but not necessarily for the better.

The Republican party had taken over the Congress in 1994, and it wasn’t clear that funding for drug courts written into the budget by the Clinton administration would survive. It would take support for drug courts from key republican committee chairs and  members, to fund the nascent drug courts. This could be described as  a critical point in the drug court movement’s development, when this new innovation could have easily faltered without adequate funding.

I saw my job, as NADCP’s President, to encourage and provide support to drug court judges, D.A.s and others who were willing to visit their Congressional members, both in D.C. and at home. It was their job to convince those Congressional leaders that drug courts worked and deserved federal funding. I contacted Drug Court judges from key states with Republican Chairs or influential congressmen, I encouraged drug court judges to visit D.C.and meet with  congressional members, and I made sure that visiting judges had talking points and other information to rely on in private conversations.  I had no idea how successful a strategy that was to be.

It turned out that the judges (especially) liked to work the halls of congress and were more than willing to move to the fore in supporting drug court funding and visiting with their members of Congress. Many a judge went to school or belonged to the same social circle or clubs as our state and congressional  leaders. Drug Court Judges invited their congressmen and local political leaders to visit their drug court (preferably at a graduation, when they would be given the opportunity to speak at the ceremony, before the media).  Many of the important Committee Chairs had drug courts and drug court judges from their jurisdictions advocating for drug court funding. And it didn’t matter much whether they were democrat or republican, liberal or conservative.

While many a new program died that political season, drug courts received there first ever federal funding from a Republican controlled Congress.






How NADCP got its start

The  NADCP Conference is history. Over 3000 participants and 3o workshop tracks over a 3 day period. The openning Plenary session was the most moving part of the Conference, with dozens of former addicts and their families giving testimonials on how drug court had changed their lives. Followed by presentations by Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson and her boss Attorney General Eric Holder.  Both gave wonderful speeches in support of Drug courts and were cheered with great enthusism.

Which brought to mind the story of how NADCP got its start. In 1995, Laurie Robinson and I were both at a TASC Conference in Orlando, Florida. Laurie was Assistant Attorney General and head of the Office  of Justice Programs (OJP). I was president of a fledgling non-profit organization made up of about a dozen drug court judges and working out of a file cabinet in my court chambers in Oakland, California. I had spoken to Laurie on previous ocassions, but knew her slightly.

When I ran into her at the hotel swimming pool, we talked about the conference briefly and then discussed the state of the Drug Court field. We agreed that Drug Courts were a grassroots phenomenum that needed to provide its own technical assistance through its own drug court professionals. By the time we had finished our conversation, Laurie had decided to provide funding for the development of drug court standards. That was the year that OJP funded “Defining Drug Courts: The Ten Key Components”, a document that became something of a bible to the field.   Although the actual funding wasn’t a great deal of money, it was enough to get a fledgling organization, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, off the ground.

Over the years, besides being a partner in the creation of NADCP, Laurie has continued to be a strong supporter and  persuasive advocate for drug courts and problem solving courts. I thought about that as 3000 plus gave her a well deserved standing ovation at the NADCP conference.

NADCP Introduces Resource Center: “Reentry Court Solutions”

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) made this important announcement in an email yesterday to thousands of its drug court and  related practitioners/subscribers. “Designed to provide critical information to those interested in effective Reentry Court strategies, Reentry Court Solutions is a new national resource center dedicated to all things Reentry Courts.”  Judge Jeffrey Tauber (ret.), Director of “Reentry Court Solutions” described his satisfaction with the the Resource Center’s first days. “I would like to thank NADCP for their collaboration and support in getting “Reentry Court Solutions” off the ground. We’ve had hundreds of contacts from all over the country and across the world. I believe that the launching of a “National Reentry Court Resource Center” marks the beginning of a new focus on the importance of the reentry court model in the criminal justice system”.

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