Defending drug courts in the worst possible way

Via Drug Policy Alliance:

Washington, D.C. – At a briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) will enlist actor Martin Sheen and others to respond to two new critical reports: the Drug Policy Alliance’s Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use ( and the Justice Policy Institute’s Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities (

The briefing also follows a recent exposé, by weekly public radio show This American Life, of a Georgia drug court that has tied up people in the criminal justice net for years – often for cases that elsewhere would have resulted in short probation terms. After forging two checks on her parents’ checking account when she was 17, one for $40 and one for $60, for example, Lindsey Dills ended up in the Glynn County drug court for five and a half years, including a total of 14 months behind bars – and then, when she was finally kicked out of drug court, she faced another five-year sentence for the original offense, including six months in state prison. Another Glynn County drug court participant, Kim Spead, was incarcerated (at a cost of $17,000) for failure to pay $1,500 in fees – even though she had successfully graduated the program nearly two years earlier.

“The drug court phenomenon is, in large part, a case of good intentions being mistaken for a good idea,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, who contributed to the report. “We’re concerned – and the data show – that many people who enter a drug court may actually wind up incarcerated for more time than if they had not entered drug court to begin with and that many people who end up in drug court do not have a drug problem but are being ordered to drug treatment anyway, filling up limited space that should go to people who actually need and want treatment.”

“Drug courts have helped some people, but they have also failed many others and focused resources on people who could be better diverted to less resource-intensive options, like probation, and/or received drug treatment outside the criminal justice system,” Dooley-Sammuli added.

I’m sure that there are some people who have been helped by drug courts, but I’m glad that they are undergoing scrutiny. For too long, there’s been this “drug courts are good” feel-good viewpoint that seems to have prevented critical analysis. Certainly drug courts are not good in all situations and they are certainly not the solution to the “drug problem.”

What I find amusing is that the National Association of Drug Court Professionals is bringing out Martin Sheen to talk about how drug courts saved his son Charlie Sheen’s life.

The idea of having a policy for the entire country based on what works works for Charlie Sheen is freakin’ hilarious.

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