University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Graduate School of Public Administration
Diagnosing the Disease:
Evaluating the effectiveness of New York Drug Courts
Frank R. Smith Jr.
Table of Contents
Table of Content 2
Diagnosing the disease 7-24
New York Drug Courts 7-16
Therapeutic Jurisprudence 17-24
This article examines the quantitative and qualitative effectiveness of New York Drug Courts in regards of reducing recidivism in its participants. The quantitative approach is taken by evaluating the cost of running drug courts against the results in reducing recidivism and drug-related crimes. The qualitative approach, on the other hand, is taken by examining the best and worst practices New York Drug Courts have implemented. These approaches examined, this paper concludes that drug courts outside of New York City need to have their qualitative approaches reexamined and fortified to reach the same effectiveness as city drug courts.
The number of American men with criminal records has increased drastically in the past decades because of more aggressive approaches to combating crime, drugs. Men with criminal records account for nearly 34% of all nonworking men ages 25-54. Moreover, employers are more reluctant to hire people with criminal records, which takes a toll on the economy. Surveys have shown that almost 9/10 employers in the United States check databases of criminal records when hiring for at least some positions. Some focus on felony convictions whereas others also consider misdemeanors or arrests.
About ten percent of nonincarcerated men had felony records in 2010, an increase from 4 percent in 1980. The figures for African-American men are worse: about ¼ 25% of nonincarcerated black men have been convicted of a felony, an increase from 9% in 1980. The trustworthiness of background checks has also been an issue. In 2008 the Federal Government began to check the backgrounds of 1.2 million workers at ports and found that 59,000 workers were to be excluded from their jobs. The problem was that once those cases were examined more carefully because of appeals filed by the workers, the background check system was from at least 42% of the time (Appelbaum 2015).
The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a study titled “Ex-offenders and the Labor Market” which found that a felony conviction or imprisonment significantly reduces the ability of ex-offenders to find jobs, costing the economy an estimated $57 to $65 billion annually in lost economic output. The study focused on male offenders, who constitute 90% of people convicted of felonies in the United States and found that in 2008 nearly 1 in 17 working-age adult men was a former prisoner and about 1 in 8 was an ex-felon. Interestingly, the study noted that the 2008 rats of both violent and property crimes were lower than in 1980 and that the increase in incarceration was a result of drug-related offenses.
Research has shown that having a history of incarceration reduces a worker’s chance of being hired by 15 to 30%. The criminal record is not, however, the only obstacle many of these Americans face. In 2008, over 36% of ex-prisoners had not earned a high school diploma or GED compared to around 10% of the general population. Only 11% of former prisoners had taken any college courses compared to almost 60% of the general population (Prison Legal News 2011).
To make matters worse, the use of legal drugs has skyrocketed in recent years to the point of becoming an epidemic the federal government has promised to tackle (Forbes 2017). It is quite evident that the traditional methods of confronting drug addiction and problems have failed. After waging a War on Drugs for over forty years, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that handling this problem with the full weight of the criminal justice system did not work and an alternative is required.
One alternative is the use of drug courts. Drug courts are highly specialized problem-solving courts that try to focus on the root cause of an accused’s addiction while freezing legal proceedings. Should the accused complete the program, their record would either be expunged or cleared of charges and they would be able to return to normal life without suffering the legal ramifications of drug related felonies. Throughout their 30-year existence, drug courts have been focused on this mission.
However, how effective are they? Are there any regional or social changes that affect their effectivity? What practices, if any, help or harm their effectiveness? These are some questions this article intends to answer in its examination of New York’s drug courts. New York was chosen because of how big and diverse the state is. New York has rural, city, and urban counties which present their own realities and issues, whereby an effective evaluation and study of their drug courts can be used for other parts of the country or soon whenever new emerging urban or city counties grow. This paper hopes to conclude with a thorough examination of New York’s drug courts and recommendations on how to improve or emulate them.
New York Drug Courts
Adult Drug Courts have been in use in the United States since 1989 and have had an incredible impact in the country. There are well over 1,300 adult drug courts in the country (Huddleston and Marlow 2011). Research has proven that well run adult drug courts reduce recidivism, with average differences in drug court and comparison group re-offending rates falling between 8 and 12% (Guitierrez and Bourgon 2009; Mitchell et al. 2012; Shaffer 2011). Nevertheless, the rates of their impact vary greatly from drug court to drug court, and the rates depend in largely on the practices that some courts use. In New York’s case, the state has 86 drug courts across the state.
Generally, there are two models for drug courts. The first one is deferred prosecution program and the second one is post-adjudication program. In the former one, defendants who meet certain eligibility requirements are diverted into the drug system prior to pleading to a charge. Defendants are not required to plead guilty and if they complete the drug court program, they are not prosecuted further; however, if they fail to complete the program they are prosecuted. In the case of the latter, defendants must plead guilty to their charges, but their sentences are deferred while they participate in the program. If they successfully complete the program, their sentences are waived and sometimes it may result in the expungement of the offense. If they fail, however, they face sentencing on the guilty plea (King and Pasquarella 2009).
New York’s first drug court opened in Rochester in 1995. Five years later, the Office of Court Drug Treatment Programs (OCDTP) was created. This office was in charged withof making treatment available to nonviolent, drug-addicted defendants in all 62 counties; implementing centralized screening to effectively identify drug-addicted defendants; expand court-based psychosocial assessment and monitoring capacity; develop pilot programs for juveniles; among other objectives. As a result, New York State has 161 drug courts, among them are 92 criminal, 43 family, 19 juvenile, and 7 town and village drug courts.
The adult drug courts in New York have been evaluated (Cissner et al. 2013) previously and its impacts documented. Retention rates for drug court programs varied across the state. The one-year retention rate throughout the state is 66%, meaning 2/3 of participants finish their first year. Looking at the fourth year, the retention rate drops to 53%. This figure is important to highlight because most of cases are resolved after four years. This 53% is also significant because it is the statewide graduation rate. In other words, almost half of the participants of the drug court program fail. Because of these graduation rates, the New York drug courts have reduced the prevalence of re-arrest after one to four years after tracking periods. The effect size and magnitude diminished over time below nationwide averages, while achieving a reduced re-conviction rate.
New York drug courts have reduced the use of prison on initial case from 8% to 4%, and the participants spent on average 15 days less incarcerated on instant case sentences (from 64.5 days to 49.0 days). Sentences originating from instant case or from re-arrests over three years were also less, from 168.2 days to 143.7. These achievements vary across the state, and the overall impact of drug courts can be varied as well. For example, drug courts that created greater legal leverage (serving more felony offenders, requiring a guilty plea at entry, and imposing a predetermined prison sentence on all participants who fail) produced larger impacts than other drug courts.
Drug courts that engaged in more certain sanctioning and adhered to a formal sanctions schedule also produced larger impacts than others (Cissner et al. 2013). Drug courts with dedicated prosecutors and public defenders on their drug court team and in staffing meetings produced larger impacts than others. More frequent supervision, such as judicial status hearings and drug testing, did not significantly reduce re-arrest. These supervisions do, however, have an impact on reducing re-arrest among elevated risk participants. Courts that used more intensive initial treatment modalities, such as residential treatment, outperformed drug courts than those that used less intensive options. These intense methods had a greater impact on the highly-addicted participants, whereas drug courts that assessed for trauma and used cognitive behavioral therapy for criminal thinking were particularly effective with less addicted participants.
From these figures we can extrapolate important points. The best practices muost be taken from the drug courts across the state and be implemented in all drug courts for more uniform, consistent, results. Drug courts with dedicated legal, court, and staffing teams must be the norm. A consistent structure of support and supervision is necessary for higher risk participants, participants need to clearly be invested and aware of the risks of failure once they start the programs. Treating the addiction is sometimes not the best strategy, in some cases it is necessary to treat the underlying trauma and criminal thinking for some participants. Supervision needs to have a mechanism of penalizing participants for non-compliance. Additionally, a sense of procedural justice, of participants having a role in interactions with the judge, have had an impact on drug court effectiveness (Gottfredson et al. 2007; Marlowe et al. 2004; Rossman et al. 2011).
New York’s drug courts have been previously examined, the first among them just a few years after their implementation in the state (Rempel et al. 2003). These studies throughout the years have managed to track reduced recidivism rates after several years, but they could not link the results to specific policies. These studies could measure the impact the courts were having but could not attribute this impact to specific ideas that could be replicated in other drug courts in the state. Other problems that have emerged from the literature and studies conducted concerning the New York drug courts are the differences that certain variables create, such as courts in the city (without mentioning the difference between variables in cities and New York City itself), in urban areas, and villages; the background among participants; procedural justice variables (Cissner et al. 2013). In the case of the latter, it is difficult to quantify and properly measure the behavior and demeanoer of a judge during a hearing. For example, it is not easy to determine, in quantitative terms, what impact a judge treating a participant with respect and making eye contact will have in the likelihood of that participant completing the program. It has, however, been shown that such actions have had a qualitative impact on the success of the drug court program.
Participants in the drug courts across the state are largely male (76%) with an average age of 32. Almost half of the participants are white (47%), more than half of them had a high school diploma or equivalent (61%), and a few than a third had been homeless at one point (30%). However, when examining the drug courts in the New York City, the participants were more likely to have come from disadvantaged groups, where nearly half (49%) of participants were homeless at some point or most likely to have been homeless at intake (19%). The notable difference between New York City and the rest of the state can also be seen when it comes to the drug use of participants.
Whereas cocaine or crack account for almost a third (32%) of drug use for statewide participants, and heroine for almost a seventh (14%), participants of New York City are more likely to use these drugs than the rest of the state (76% for crack, cocaine, or heroin). It is also interesting to note that in most studies, the impact of legal opioid drugs has not been measured in drug courts since most drug courts in the state do not attend cases of opioid abuse despite the ongoing crisis. It is also significant to point out that more than half of participants (62%) had previously been in substance abuse treatment and similar numbers (63%) of participants reporting a mental health issue. Additionally, a significant number of participants (83%) had previously gone through the criminal justice system, with at least one prior arrest and a total of four priors on average, whereas in New York City the number are even bigger with all participants (100%) having at least one prior arrest with a total of 19 priors on average.
From this we can clearly see that the New York drug court program is not designed to preventively handle drug related crimes and issues. Rather, it is seen and handled, as a secondary alternative. With the high figures of mental health related issues among participants, the state has also been lax in taking preventative action in attending the issue, and largely ignored them for participants who had been previously incarcerated. An alternative to tackling this issue would be to empower family members under Kendra’s Law to involuntarily admit drug addicts to psychiatric evaluation and then towards a drug court program. However, as was previously mentioned, if a participant does not have an active role, or feels coerced, it is more likely that they will fail the program.
Almost all drug courts find substance-dependent participants eligible (99%), and almost three fourths (73%) of drug courts consider substance-abusing participants eligible as well. Similar figures can be seen when it comes to alcohol only participants (72%). However, this is in sharp contrast to drug courts that find substance using participants (those whose use is not severe enough) as eligible (21%).
From these figures it is easy to signal the problem of not using drug courts as a means of prevention. Drug using participants are largely rejected, thereby subjecting them to the criminal justice system where they will suffer all the consequences of a conviction. Their probabilities of finding a job after serving time will be drastically limited, and with an already existing drug problem, it is likely that these people will increase their drug use and abuse, thereby becoming a new problem for New York. This short-sighted vision can be attributed to fiscal concerns, as well as other factors such a lack of trained personnel or a lack of resources to meet the needs of drug courts. However, increasing the resources for drug courts will be a more effective and efficient use of state funds and better for the overall wellbeing of state residents.
The overwhelming majority (85%) of drug courts require a guilty plea for participant to qualify. Failure to complete the program results in jail time (67%, though 90% for New York City). If participants graduate, the charges against them are dismissed, however there is a significant difference between New York City, suburban drug courts, and upstate drug courts. In the case of New York City, the drug courts there dismiss charges upon graduation 70% of the time, suburban drug courts 67%, while upstate drug courts only do so 9%.
This shocking difference will be made worse once drug courts start treating legal substances abuse such as opioids and defeats the purpose of drug courts, for perhaps the underlying problems that cause addiction and drug abuse may be attended, but failure to dismiss the charges against graduates condemns them to suffer all the consequences of a criminal conviction and undermines the trust and effectiveness of drug courts. If a person knows that regardless of whether they graduate they will still suffer the same consequences, why would the bother to try and tackle the hard-underlying issues of their problems and mental health? It is not the carrot and stick approach, rather a stick and stick one.
This stark contrast between New York City, suburban courts, and upstate courts can also be noted when it comes to supervision. Participants receive supervision from judges, case managers, and other drug court staff to ensure that they follow through the program. Most drug courts (66%) require one to three judicial status hearings per month during the first 90 days. The difference between the three locations regarding manager meetings are 80%, 86%, and 58% respectively. This difference is significant, because of the qualitative impact these supervision and meetings can have to a participant.
Recidivism rates are affected by participating in a drug court. After one year of participation, the recidivism rate for any re-arrest, drug related or not, was 3% less for drug court participants. For two years after participation, the rate increases to 4% less. Regarding felony drug cases, re-arrests go down 8%. The impact of recidivism is noted greatly when one compares those who graduate from the program from those who fail. Only 36% of those who graduate from the drug court program are rearrested, whereas 64% of those who failed end up rearrested. The rates for rearrests for those who fail the program is higher than for those who never participated in the program (44%).
What this means is that there must be a focus on ensuring that people graduate the program and that the reasons why there is a higher recidivism rate for those who fail in comparison to those who never participated needs to be thoroughly examined. With an overall, statewide graduation rate of 53%, the efficiency of drug courts need to be reexamined and improved. The varieties between drug courts is also another problem that needs to be examined, one drug court reduced rearrests by 21% whereas another increased it by 16%, as there is no standard metric that each drug court uses beyond the guidelines.
Indeed, drug courts have ben expanding across the country since they first emerged. On a national level, the recidivism rate is on average between 8% to 10% (Eckholm 2008) and have resulted in a more efficient use of taxpayer money. Nearly 70,000 people participate in an adult or juvenile drug court at any give time across the country. Among the criticisms of drug courts are the expensive up-front costs, as well as the lack of dedicated and talented professionals needed to attend the cases. In some cases, participants may end up spending more time in the program, and therefore in custody, than the actual sentence might have been if the participant had opted to not participate.
In the case of New York, there are nearly 1,600 participants in adult drug courts, which themselves form part of the State’s problem-solving courts. These problem-solving courts also include a juvenile division, mental health, and sex offense courts. Much like New York, recidivism rates across the country depend upon the quality of the program and the judges. Although the nationwide recidivism rate may appear to be small, the fiscal benefits are easy to note. The Urban Institute found that for 55,000 people in adult drug courts, the country spends about half a billion dollars a year in supervision and treatment, but reaps more than $1 billion in reduced law enforcement, prison, and victim costs. (Ekholm).
However, drug courts exist in only half the counties in the country and those that do exist, have the capacity to only serve about 10% of the serious drug-abusing and addicted offenders in need (Huddleston 2009). In the case of New York, the State has implemented a drug court in each county. The New York State Court System estimated that $254 million were saved in incarceration by diverting 18,000 drug offenders into drug courts. Nationwide, it has been estimated that for every $1.00 invested in drug courts, $3.36 are saved by the justice system and up to $12.00 are saved by the community on reduced emergency room visits and other medical care, foster care, and property loss (Huddleston).
The average annual cost for an individual who is incarcerated has been estimated to be $23,000. In contrast, a person diverted to a drug court costs on average $4,300 a year. (King and Pasquarella 2009). The savings vary greatly state to state, however in one specific example the Multnomah County evaluation found that ten years of operating a drug court resulted in $9 million in savings based on case processing alone. Once one adds the reduced recidivism and jail time, the savings increased to $88 million (Michigan Supreme Court).
As such, from a fiscal point of view drug courts are a good investment. The $254 million savings created by the New York drug courts can be used to invest further in the drug court programs, by ensuring that the staff in these courts are properly trained. The savings could also be used to help improve the effectiveness of suburban and urban drug courts, where the main problem in those courts are the qualitative approach, which will be examined in the next chapter of this article.
Therapeutic jurisprudence is an interdisciplinary approach to the law and mental health field which proposes that the law itself can be seen to function as a therapist or therapeutic agent. The legal rules, procedures, and participants are all examined to determine how and if they have an impact on therapeutic or antitherapeutic outcomes; good/ positive or bad/ negative outcomes. It is a qualitative examination of the law and its procedural form that attempts to complement the law. It suggests that the law should be designed to serve more effectively as a therapeutic agent. Therapeutic jurisprudence looks at other disciplines, such as psychology, criminology, sociology, and others to find and produce practices and techniques that judges, lawyers, and other legal actors can use to create a therapeutic, positive, outcome in legal proceedings (Wexler 2014).
As any discipline, therapeutic jurisprudence has several important principles to guide it. Among them, we can find: ongoing judicial intervention, close monitoring of and immediate response to behavior, the integration of treatment services with judicial case processing, multidisciplinary involvement, and collaboration with community-based and government organizations (Winick and Wexler 2001). Examining these principles, even on a superficial level, it is easy to note how they can contribute and play a key role in drug courts, as well as problem-solving courts. As has been mentioned previously, an ongoing judicial intervention has played a significant role in helping high-use drug abusers in New York, as well as close monitoring and immediate response to behavior.
Lawyers can play a significant role in assisting their clients during drug courts using therapeutic jurisprudence. Some of the ways attorneys can do this is by actively and collaboratively contributing to their clients’ release plans, by focusing on their clients’ strengths and positive actions and attitudes, and by developing a positive working relationship with their clients (Herzog 2016). An example of this can be seen when an attorney takes an active interest in a participant’s recovery, encouraging their efforts, presenting all legal options and allowing the participant to choose their own destiny instead of streamlining the participant’s path.
There have been some practices that have ensured the success of participants in drug courts. These practices reflect the qualitative approach that a therapeutic jurisprudence brings to drug courts. It has been noted that older participants are more likely to graduate and not recidivate, whereas younger participants aren’t (Center for Court Innovation 2005). Another indicator for success lies on how drug courts help promotes goals beyond substance abuse recovery. Courts that promote achievements and lifestyle changes in employment, education, training, or even family reunification have an increased chance of a participant succeeding or failing in the program. Clearly, taking a qualitative approach, a therapeutic jurisprudence approach, has helped in the outcome and effectiveness of drug courts.
Therapeutic jurisprudence examines the role each person involved in the participants rehabilitation plays. The judge’s role is one that should be a partnership, less formal than in traditional courtrooms and is individualized based on the judge’s supervision of that individual’s progress (King and Pasquarella 2009). Studies (Marlowe et al 2004) have found that judges did not seem to have an impact on program attendance, however higher risk drug court participants experienced a benefit from more intense judicial involvement, while lower risk participants did not receive any benefit. It is, therefore, suggested that judges take an active interest in each case they attend and play an active role. Even though it will only benefit one type of participant, it will be better for the judge to develop the skills necessary to help that type of participant, since an active involvement in the process does not jeopardize another participant’s recovery.
Specialized treatment courts, such as drug treatment courts, are related to therapeutic jurisprudence. These courts can be seen as applications of therapeutic jurisprudence. They seek to solve a variety of individual problems, using principles of therapeutic jurisprudence in their work. These principles include ongoing judicial intervention, close monitoring of and immediate response to behavior, the integration of treatment services with judicial case processing, multi-disciplinary involvement, and collaboration with community-based and government organizations (Winick and Wexler 2015).
Drug treatment court was pioneered in the late 1980s at the same time when therapeutic jurisprudence was being developed as an interdisciplinary approach to legal scholarship and law reform. Although drug treatment court developed independently, it can be seen as taking a therapeutic jurisprudence approach to the processing of drug cases inasmuch as its goal is the rehabilitation of the offender. Drug treatment court was a response to the recognition that processing non-violent offenders charged with the possession or use of drugs through the criminal courts and sentencing them to prison did not change their addictive behavior (Winick and Wexler).
Instead of the traditional criminal justice approach, drug treatment court emphasizes the rehabilitation of the offender and explicitly makes the judge a member of the treatment team. Offenders accepting diversion to the drug treatment court agree to remain drug-free, to participate in a prescribed course of drug treatment, to submit to periodic drug testing to monitor their compliance, and to report frequently to court for judicial supervision of their progress. Drug court judges receive special training in the nature and treatment of drug addiction, and through their supervision and monitoring of the offender’s treatment progress, themselves function as therapeutic agents (Winick and Wexler).
An understanding of the approach of therapeutic jurisprudence and of the psychological and social work principles it uses can improve the functioning of drug treatment court judges. Judge-defendant interactions are central to the functioning of drug treatment court. Judges need to understand how to convey empathy how to recognize and deal with denial, and how to apply principles of behavioral psychology and motivation theory (Winick and Wexler). They need to understand the psychology of procedural justice, which teaches that people are appearing in court experience greater satisfaction and comply more willingly with court orders when they are given a sense of voice and validation and treated with dignity and respect (Winick 1990).
Offenders accepting diversion to drug treatment court are in effect entering into a type of behavioral contract with the court, and judges should understand the psychology of such behavioral contracting and how it can be used to increase motivation, compliance, and effective performance. Moreover, drug treatment court judges need to understand how to deal with feelings of coercion on the part of the offender. Research suggests that if the defendant experiences this choice as coerced, their attitude, motivation, and chances for success in the treatment program may be undermined.
Likewise, experience the choice as voluntarily made and non-coerced can be more conducive to success. Judges should not attempt to pressure offenders to accept diversion to drug treatment court but should remind them that their choice is entirely up to them. Judges should always try to treat offenders with dignity and respect, to inspire their best interests at heart, and to provide them a full opportunity to participate, and to listen attentively to what they have to say. Judges treating drug court offenders in these ways can increase the likelihood that they will experience their choice to enter treatment as voluntary and will internalize the treatment goal and act in ways that help to achieve it (Winick and Wexler).
The judge isn’t the only important participant in drug treatment court. Drug treatment court is often administered with a team approach, under which the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer ares seen as members of a team attempting to facilitate the rehabilitation of the offender. While this might have advantages, it also has disadvantages, especially if the offender comes to feel that his own lawyer has sold himthem out (Winick and Wexler).
The therapeutic jurisprudence approach to court rooms can be compared to that of a theater. The court room is the center stage, where the judge is the director coordinating the roles of the actors and providing motivation for how they will play their parts and inspiring them to play them well. As such, they are not merely worried about the procedural and adjudication of problems, but in achieving real outcomes associated with avoiding recidivism. Judges in these problem-solving courts are not mere neutral arbiters of legal controversies, rather they must become active advocates for the people they deal with in order to solve their problems and underlying causes of their problems.
As such, they must closely work with community agencies and treatment providers during the process for them to monitor and improve their effectiveness. Judges, therefore, cannot lay back and allow the prosecutor and other lawyers to take over the legal proceedings as in normal cases, instead they must ensure that the defendant is an active part of the procedure and that they are being treated holistically during the entirety of the case. Judges must ensure that their approach and handling of defendants should be done in a constructive manner that maximizes the therapeutic potential of each defendant, the same way their attorneys do so.
An example of this can be made when examining the possibility of granting a probation for a defendant. A therapeutic jurisprudence approach towards this would require that the defendant partake in an introspective examination of behaviors or activities that may lead to recidivism and they must have an open and frank discussion with their lawyer and the judge. This conversation cannot be one-sided, that is to say: the judge cannot merely ignore the defendant’s reflection and dictate the terms of the probation.
Instead the judge should allow the defendant to present their own conditions and work through them with the defendant, allowing the defendant to have a voice and participation in the proceeding, thereby making them into a willing participant of the proceedings and not making them feel as though they are being forced into this. Should a defendant who, for example, be in a problem-solving court because of alcoholism, conclude that one of the reasons why they drive under the influence is because they hang out with friend x to drink together on day y, then the judge should recommend that the defendant include a prohibition of hanging out on said day with said friend as a requirement.
This way the defendant can critically examine causes or contributing factors of their problems and feel as though the judge and other legal actors (prosecutor and lawyer) are working with the defendant instead of them teaming up against the defendant. It is extremely important for all the legal actors to view themselves as therapeutic agents during their work with defendants because every interaction they have with participants will inevitably have either a therapeutic or anti-therapeutic outcome.
Participants usually appear before problem-solving courts because of social or psychological problems they have not recognized or because they are incapable of dealing with these problems effectively. If the participant perceives that they have a problem and is motivated to deal with it, they will be able to respond effectively to these problems with available treatment. It is therefore imperative for judges not to impose the realization of these problems upon participants, rather it behooves participants to make these realizations and accept them themselves. The judge cannot solve the problem for the participant but assist them, and together with the treatment staff, they can build upon the participants strengths and use them in a collaborative effort to solve the underlying problem.
Judges, as well as the entire drug court staff, should foster their interpersonal skills to empathize and help participants. They should avoid paternalism and respect participant’s autonomy, the goal is not to impose the law or the court’s authority over the participant, rather the goal is to help the participant overcome the root cause of their addictions. To achieve this, the staff should use persuasion and not coercion when it comes to handling a participant. Persuasion is a more effective tool in sparking a participant’s motivation to start, continue, and complete the program.
It is extremely important to highlight the disparity of power between the participant and the drug court staff: the imbalance of power by its nature will make almost any interaction between them coercive and an imposition. A drug court staff that works with a participant must be aware of this imbalance and strive to overcome it. It is through persuasion and active interest that a drug court staff can help motivate the participant to complete the program (Winick 2002).
As was noted earlier in the article, the drug courts in New York City employ more active and therapeutic practices in comparison to the urban and suburban drug courts in the rest of the State. The reduced effectiveness of these drug courts in comparison to the ones in New York City is directly linked to the lack of use of therapeutic jurisprudence, a qualitative approach, to their drug programs.
New York’s Drug Courts, on a superficial examination, are a success. They have reduced recidivism and created savings for the State, which are the goals for drug courts. However, at a closer examination, one can see that the effectiveness of drug courts varies greatly across the state. Drug Courts that have an active, trained, and dedicated staff achievement better, longer lasting results.
These Drug Courts, which do not apply a qualitative, therapeutic jurisprudence approach, are failing in their ethical duty to help participants in their recoveries and thereby reducing the effectiveness of the programs themselves. This lack of accountability can be laid directly at the feet of the state government because they have not invested the adequate resources needed to help fix this recurring problem.
So long as this is not corrected, the effectiveness of New York Drug Courts will be lackluster and will not reach its full potential. This will also create an even bigger divide between New York City and the rest of the state, as the treatment received by participants will not be equal throughout the state. To counter this, New York must invest in properly staffing and training drug courts in all counties of the State to ensure a quality service. The savings already being created by the drug courts can be used to do this without taxing the New York tax payer any further.
Drug courts around the nation can learn from New York in other ways as well. The different variables that affect New York, such as the diverse ethnicity, economic realities, drug use, and regional differences that exist in New York due to its size and population make it the prime model to emulate and examine. Other states can take which ever New York region best reflects their realities and implement their models, taking into consideration the necessity of using a qualitative approach to their own drug courts.
These other drug courts and states should remember: the fiscal savings are a benefit and not the sole reason for drug courts; rather the main goal of drug courts is to help improve the lives of participants and help them tackle the underlying issues of their addictions. Only once states take this approach, they will be able to properly diagnose the disease and cure it.
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