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20. FAQ: Objections & Responses
Question 1: We never had drug courts when I was younger. Why do we need them now? (I actually was asked this question by a legislator)
Answer: My home county jail has gone from no prisoners on two occasions I recall to building a new jail with capacity for 148, all while I was practicing law. The game changed when crack, meth and opiates hit our streets. Drug courts are succeeding at getting some of these offenders out of our $29,000/year revolving door.
Question 2: Drug court is a kind of probation. A person who goes on a crime spree deserves prison not probation.
Answer: Deserve? Offenders have done nothing to deserve assistance, and I do not advocate for offenders. I advocate for citizens who deserve more safety on the highway and who deserve freedom from felons at their back doors and windows.
Drug court participants usually get both prison/jail time and drug court. Most of the sentences I see in drug court are multiple terms, where the judge gives a prison/jail term, to start, and then-after prisoners finish the first prison term- they get a second term that carries drug court. It is the second term that has a probation condition of finishing drug court. Get ejected from drug court and face the second prison term. For prisoners who were sentenced for only one crime, judges frequently impose a "split sentence" (also known as "special probation" sentence) whereby the offender gets time behind bars and the rest of the sentence is suspended on condition of completing drug court. Fail in drug court and face more time behind bars. When I am sentencing someone to drug court, I like to be certain the participant has pulled enough time behind bars and away from his/her dealer before drug court begins. I encourage judges visiting to the district to do likewise.
Question 3: Why did Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) chose to cut funding to drug courts in 2011?
Answer Drug courts do not save money for AOC, and drug courts do not facilitate court operations. In fact, they are time-consuming. Drug courts do, however, save money for prisons, for Medicaid, for schools, for Indigent Defense Services and for Social Services. I know that in 2011 when the legislature came up with a preliminary budget, they informed AOC of the amount that would have to be cut from AOC budget, and AOC was permitted to recommend the cuts. That is good legislative policy, and the legislature deserves to be commended by asking AOC to make the recommendations for the cuts. Possible cuts included a number of AOC initiatives which saved time and increased productivity throughout the courts including custody mediation and equitable distribution financial mediation, two programs which dramatically reduce the number of domestic law trials. A cut in funding for trial court administrators would have reduced the amount of time that judges could try cases by increasing the time required for organizing cases for trial and setting of calendars. Drug courts only operated in 23 counties when AOC was told to choose the cuts. In 2011, AOC chose to save the programs which increased efficiency across the state rather than to save a program which did not as significantly increase statewide court efficiency. I agree with AOC's decision, given the choice it had to make. That was then and this is now.
Question 4: Why should we coddle predators, rapist, robbers, and drug dealers? They deserve more than just probation.
Answer: Drug court selection doesn't work that way. Rapists, predators, drug dealers are poison to drug court and are not allowed to enter. As violent offenders, they do not qualify for drug court. The program seeks "hard-core" offenders, but "hard core" does not equate to "violent." Recall that I stated in Section 5 that drug courts exclude persons who would be detrimental to the program.
Question 5: Why should we spend taxpayer dollars on felons, thieves, and victimizers even if they are non-violent?
Answer: At this very moment felons and predators are being fed, housed, medically treated, protected from one another and entertained on flat screen televisions at taxpayer expense. At this very moment we are funding programming that keeps the revolving door turning. It works so well that more than 60% go back for another dose at taxpayer expense. We spend roughly $45 per day on them in jail awaiting trial and roughly $71 per day on them in prison. We are spending the money hoping to get them off our roads and out of our homes, neighborhoods and businesses. We can do better, and cost less in the process. What-today-do we get for this money? Eighty percent of those imprisoned either have been there before or are going again. We must protect ourselves from predators, but we can do better with those who are going to return to the community.
Question 6: Cheating on drug tests by few can ruin the program for all.
Answer: Cheaters are demoralizing. Jail or ejection from the program are the expectation when cheaters they are caught. The Internet and magazine racks are full of advertisements for vitamins, pills and even devices that carry the promise of fooling the drug tests. There are ways that the drug court can catch would be cheaters. Mouth swabs and hair tests are more expensive and are rarely used, but they do demonstrate when a participant has been cheating on urine screens. Addicts like to talk and to brag to others in treatment, to people on the street, even to confidential informants. (Information from confidential informants is one reason we want to maintain a strong relationship with local law enforcement.) Information about cheating gets back to us with remarkable frequency. When a braggart is caught and incarcerated, it adds credibility to our statements to participants that they are wasting their money on the cheater pills and devices.
Question 7: All of this cheerleading, applause, backslapping, fails to show respect and dignity of the court.
Answer: Positive reinforcement works. The applause in drug court serves a function that is otherwise unattainable. Encouragement and reinforcement of good behavior is the best way to modify behavior. This rule of human nature does not change just because the person at the front of the room wears a black robe. The role of drug court judge is encouraging sobriety. I concede: Using a court for something approaching cheerleading is a paradigm shift. Many judges will never be comfortable in such an environment, and they can be comfortable in the knowledge that nobody is going to force them to do drug court. But one judge's comfort level should not be another judge's model for performance. I must concede I was uncomfortable with the encouragement, cheerleading and reinforcement at first, and there are still aspects this manner of encouragement that go past my comfort level. Still, the objective a drug court judge is to achieve sobriety for an offender, not to keep the judge in his comfort zone. If I had my preference, every case, every issue would be quiet and dignified. I don't want to see or hear applause and high fives in my court- unless I am swearing in a guardian ad litem, swearing in a lawyer, swearing in a judge, or, perhaps, if I am being sworn in myself. Oh, yes. The "in crowd" is doing applause and high fives even in the "dignified courts."
Question 8: One of the characteristics of addicts is they are very deceptive. How can a judge deal with such lying, deceit and deception? Why would he want to do so?
Answer: I admit I find the constant deception and deceit they hard to deal with. This was probably the most difficult aspect of my first several years in drug court. I find it very difficult to discern whether they are telling me the truth or a lie. Several times my skepticism lead me to believe they were lying to me only later to learn clearly that they were telling me the truth. I put up with deceptiveness because I could see no way to engage with these souls other than to engage with them. I finally accommodated myself to engage with deceivers when I realized that their recovery was more important than my ego.
Question 9: Why don't drug courts eject addicts from the program as soon as they test dirty or fail to comply with pro - sobriety rules? Doesn't it just encourage them to keep them in the program?
Answer: Addicts won't recover if they don't stay in treatment at least a year. Remember the brain scans. It is a rule of the program that a participant's duration in the program can be extended if they fail to comply. (The exception to this is if the failure to comply jeopardizes the program or tempts other participants into relapse.) Drug court judges should make it understood from the outset that the drug court team will continue to nudge the addict into recovery - to apply the Good Shepherd's hook. Drug Court guidelines state the addict needs to stay in treatment at least a year. If this addict gets back on the street the first or second time he tests dirty, without resolving his addiction, he/she will reenter the revolving door and will continue to be a danger on our streets and a menace in our neighborhoods. I am aware of some residential programs that eject a participant with a first dirty test. I do not expect residential programs to adopt the drug court model.
Question 10: Why do only 35% of those put in drug court finish?
Answer: Most of the persons who fail have learned to do jail and prison and they state they had rather go back behind bars than continue with drug court. Drug court's completion rate of 35% is better- almost double-traditional therapy's 20% completion rate.
Question 11: What happens to those who are ejected from drug court?
Answer: The most frequent reason participants fail is they had rather do prison than do drug court. When they are ejected from drug court they face probation violation. The usual response to probation violation involves bars-the iron kind of bars.
Question 12: Only a few counties have drug courts.
Answer I heard this a lot in 2011. My response is that it would be a heavy lift to start one now without state funding, knowing the legislature is rejecting the request of a Republican Governor.
Question 13: Drug courts are too expensive.
Answer: If the data did not support it, we would not see as many rock-ribbed conservatives supporting drug courts. Certainly, there are minds better than mine with the time and resources better to research drug courts and better to research the researchers. But I take confidence this knowledge: Taxpayers can be assured that elected conservatives wish to ferret out waste fraud and abuse in government. These elected conservatives have staffers to help them in discern fact from fiction. Note well that the staffers for conservative congressmen, for conservative candidates for president, for conservative legislatures and for conservative governors roundabout the Old North State have failed to find supply them with waste fraud and abuse evidence sufficient to divert these conservatives away from drug court funding.
If the contrary research and the data were there, these researchers should have found it.
Question 14: Drug courts don't use state of the art Medically Assisted Treatment or MAT.
Answer: A recent letter to Huffpost Politics from the mother of a drug court participant who had died while in drug court asserted that the judge in her son's court failed to use state of the art Medically Assisted Treatment, referred to as MAT. Lectures in the last couple of years at National Association of Drug Court Professionals, NADCP, have stressed that MAT has become the standard of practice in treatment, and courts fail to follow this standard "at their own hazard." The treatment community has in years past taken the position that a patient who changes from one drug to another drug is not living "drug free." This outlook completely discredited MAT. The move toward MAT as the standard of practice is a recent development. I have attended NADCP conferences for 10 years or so, and only 3 years ago did I learn of 2 new drugs in the MAT constellation. It was 2 years ago that a lecturer led me to understand the standard had changed. As I was doing a final read through, I recalled seeing on June 16, 2016 an announcement of on-line training for MAT. Using MAT injects another mechanism for defrauding the court, so that it requires co-ordination between the subscribing physician, the team and the therapist. I don't doubt that some are failing to use best practices in drug courts, just as I don't doubt that some are failing to use best practices in medicine, engineering, journalism and the other professions.
Question 15: Why can't all the counties that want drug court get a grant?
Answer: I have spent way too much energy looking into it and I found:
The Federal drug court grants contemplate a request much larger than my court would justify.
Most grants assume I will get a similar grant from locals or that locals will match.
Most grants go away in three years leaving us where?
I have been able until now to get by with a little dollar here and a little dollar here. It is a lot of lifting, but it's better than going after a single-pay grant. If you have a friend, call me.
Chief District Court Judge
"Now this is not THE END. It is not even the beginning of THE END. But it is, perhaps, THE END of the beginning."
Winston Churchill, November 1942