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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Practitioner Fact Sheet on Sanctions and Incentives

Dec. 17, 2012

Drug Court Research can provide a great deal of critical information to those engaged in the development of Reentry Courts and other Evidence-based Sentencing Systems. Dr. Doug Marlowe, Chief of Science, Policy & Law, National Association of Drug Court Professionals, continues to produce invaluable practitioner information to the Collaborative Court field.

Dr. Marlowe makes this important observation in his “Drug Court Practioner Fact Sheet, Behavior Modification 101 for drug Courts: Making the Most of Incentives and Sanctions” (click on image on the left for PDF).

“At its core, the criminal justice system is a behavior modification program designed to reduce crime and rehabilitate offenders. Historically, unfortunately, rewards and sanctions were rarely applied in a systematic manner that could produce meaningful or lasting effects. Dissatisfied with this unacceptable state of affairs, a group of criminal court judges set aside special dockets to provide closer supervision and greater accountability for substance-dependent and substance-abusing offenders. Wittingly or unwittingly, these judges devised programs that are highly consonant with the scientific principles of contingency management or operant conditioning.

Research now confirms that the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of any Drug Court will depend largely on its ability to apply these behavioral techniques correctly and efficiently. Drug Courts that ignore the lessons of science are not very effective and waste precious resources and opportunities. Drug Court teams should periodically consult the latest findings on behavior modification and attend training and technical assistance activities to ensure they are making the most of their limited resources and leveraging the best outcomes for their participants and their communities.” (p.8)

Reentry Courts and Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems would do well to familiarize themselves with this NDCI publication  (It should be noted that appropriate Drug Court methodology can sometimes differ substantially when applied to different populations; more on that later). Systemic Approaches are clearly key to the effective sentencing and rehabilitation of all offenders, not just those who are drug dependent. The application of  ”Evidence Based Sentencing Systems, then is especially important when jurisdictions sentence serious offenders. (See: An Overview of a Court-Based Sentencing System and Court-Based Realignment Recommendations; immediately below))