NADCP and Drug Court Leaders Respond to Criticisms With the Facts

The following is an interesting article about Drug Courts in the USA and how successful they are. It is in response to criticisms by the NACDL about drug courts.
Setting the Record Straight: Criticisms Answered

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) Board of Directors has unanimously approved an official position statement regarding the 2009 report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) purporting to identify deficiencies in the practices of Drug Courts. Following the release of their report last September, NACDL used attacks on Drug Courts to launch an aggressive media campaign. Each attack on Drug Courts was met with a thorough and factual response from NADCP. These responses, and others, are listed below.

NADCP CEO West Huddleston and NADCP Chief of Science, Law, and Policy Doug Marlowe authored the official position statement to correct assertions made in the NACDL report that are unsupported by research, as well as address some areas of common concern. NADCP encourages Drug Court professionals to use the statement as a tool for answering these criticisms and concerns should they arise.

Missouri Law Quarterly
April, 2010

Drug Courts Save Lives and Money: So Why the Criticisms?
by Dr. Douglas Marlowe, Chief of Science, Law and Policy, NADCP

More research has been published on the effects of Drug Courts than on virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. By 2006, the scientific community had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt from what are called meta-analyses (highly advanced statistical procedures) that Drug Courts reduce crime and return financial benefits to society which are several times the initial investments. A large-scale study funded by the National Institute of Justice and recently completed in 2009—called the Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation, or MADCE— has confirmed, once again, that Drug Courts reduce crime, reduce substance abuse, improve family relationships, and increase employment and school enrollment.

Yet, just as the scientific evidence is coming in decidedly in favor of Drug Courts, criticisms of Drug Courts appear to be reaching a surprising crescendo in opinion editorials and non-scientific law journals. How can we explain this seeming paradox? If the criminal justice system endorses evidence-based practices, why should negative sentiments be rising alongside favorable research findings?

The answer is at least two-fold. One group of critics appears to be turning an intentionally blind eye to the research evidence to serve a drug-decriminalization policy agenda. Although they may use scientific language to defend their objections, no amount of data could ever dissuade them from their position. A second group of critics, however, recognizes the proven efficacy of Drug Courts, but worries that some Drug Courts might produce other negative side-effects which should also be taken into account, such as impeding zealous representation by defense counsel. Because these latter critics are swayed by data, their concerns are capable of being empirically tested; and if confirmed, can point the way toward corrective measures that will advance the field rather than move it further and further behind.

One would be hard-pressed to point to a negative commentary on Drug Courts that does not, within the same pages, endorse a drug-decriminalization or legalization agenda. For decades, drug legalizers could take steady aim at the so-called “War on Drugs” with its undue emphasis on mandatory sentencing and incarceration. Such criticisms were easy to level, because the War on Drugs has been both prohibitively costly and largely ineffective at reducing drug abuse or crime.

But Drug Courts throw a potential curve ball to these arguments. Drug Courts prove that drug abuse can remain illicit without necessitating a costly and draconian punitive response. We can hold people accountable for their dangerous behavior, while at the same time supervising them in the community and providing them with needed treatment and other services. This finding could be seen by some as sweeping the legs out from under the strongest rationale for drug decriminalization. And for this reason, it has elicited a steady stream of vehement antagonism framed in the guise of an objective scientific analysis.

Other critics, however, recognize that even beneficial treatments have the potential to cause unwanted side-effects. For example, aspirin is proven to reduce pain but in some cases can cause unintended ulcers or blood thinning. This has required the medical field to take remedial measures to reduce the likelihood that such side-effects will occur and to treat any negative symptoms that do emerge. By analogy, there is always the possibility that some Drug Courts might misapply their authority or mishandle their operations to the detriment of their participants. Moreover, there is the possibility that some types of addicted offenders might not respond well to the Drug Court model and should be treated in other ways.

There are two problems, however, with how these arguments have typically been framed by critics of Drug Courts. First, they assume facts not in evidence, and second, they often seek the wrong remedy. A review of the research literature through February of 2010 failed to uncover a single empirical study confirming any of the untoward effects that have been attributed by critics to Drug Courts. For example there is no reliable evidence (apart from some critics’ personal anecdotes) that Drug Courts impede adequate evidentiary discovery by defense counsel or sentence terminated defendants more harshly than if they had never entered the Drug Court.

It would not be a difficult matter, however, to study these questions in a scientifically defensible manner. If such negative effects do exist, then corrective measures can be developed and tested to address them. And finally, practice guidelines can be developed to ensure that all Drug Courts adhere to best practices and take reasonable efforts to avoid foreseeable injuries. There is no need to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” The indicated remedy is not to abandon the most successful program we have in the criminal justice system. The appropriate course of action is to conduct more sophisticated research to improve the intervention and to develop standards to guide the actions of Drug Court professionals.

Drug Courts are here to stay not because they are politically palatable, but because they have withstood, time and again, rigorous empirical scrutiny. They work where few other programs have. The time has come for the Drug Court field to reach full maturity. And like other mature disciplines, such as medicine or psychology, this means developing guidelines for effective and ethical practices.

The time has come for serious-minded constituencies to cease taking blind swipes at Drug Courts and vying for attention and limited resources. We need to come together to determine who should be treated in Drug Courts, how to optimize Drug Court operations, and how to avoid or redress any potential harms. This is what is meant by rational drug policy.

Governing Magazine
January, 2010
by West Huddleston, Chief Executive Officer, NADCP

John Buntin’s recent profile of Judge Stephen Alm and Hawaii’s promising H.O.P.E program is an encouraging sign that our nation’s probation system is ready for change (Swift and Certain, Hawaii’s Probation Experiment – November, 2009). In highlighting the development of the H.O.P.E. program, Mr. Buntin correctly identified systemic changes to our criminal justice system brought about by the growth and widespread success of Drug Courts, which now exceed 2,300 nationwide. In doing so, however, Mr. Buntin also raised serious questions about Drug Courts that rigorous research has already answered.

In the twenty years since the first Drug Court was founded there has been more research published on its effects than virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. The verdict? Drug Courts significantly reduce substance abuse and crime at less expense than any other justice strategy.

Mr. Buntin inferred that little is known about Drug Court participants once they leave the program. Here are the facts. Research demonstrates that nationwide, 70% percent of the 120,000 annual participants in Drug Court complete the program and 75% remain arrest-free. The longest study on Drug Courts to date shows that community reductions in drug abuse and improved employment and family functioning outcomes can last as long as 14 years.

Judge Alm suggested that most Drug Courts employ an “ineffective” reliance on future punishment. This is not the case. Drug Courts utilize close supervision, urine monitoring, and a system of graduated sanctions to ensure participants are immediately held accountable for not living up to their obligations. The approach is a vast improvement over traditional criminal justice responses, which are often applied inconsistently and in an all or nothing manner which emphasizes the draconian response of incarceration. This is just part of the reason why Drug Courts work better than probation, jails or prison and better than treatment alone.

The Sacramento Bee
October 16, 2010

Drug courts unfairly attacked
by West Huddleston, Chief Executive Officer, NADCP

Re “Fresh look at drug courts could also ease prison crisis” (Viewpoints, Nov. 9): In its latest attack on drug courts, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reveals a startling comfort with distorting facts and ignoring the truth. In misrepresenting its recent anecdotal report as a “study,” the NACDL chooses to ignore two decades of conclusive research, including hundreds of studies that prove drug courts reduce crime, reduce drug abuse, reunite families and save considerable money for taxpayers.

Here are the facts. Nationwide, 70 percent of the approximately 120,000 seriously addicted individuals who voluntarily enter drug courts with the assistance of their defense attorney complete it a year or more later and 75 percent of them remain arrest-free. A drug court participant is more than twice as likely to stay clean and remain arrest-free than is a newly released state inmate. Research also concludes that drug courts reduce drug abuse and improve employment and family functioning.

These effects are not short-lived. The longest study on drug courts to date shows these outcomes last as long as 14 years. Clearly, drug courts are not an experiment. They must be expanded to serve the 1.2 million substance-abusing arrestees before the courts. That is the real issue.

With every blind attack on drug courts, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers calls into question only its own credibility.

The Miami Herald
October 13, 2009

Keep drug courts — they’re effective
by Dr. Douglas Marlowe, Chief of Science, Law and Policy, NADCP

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers chooses to attack our nation’s most successful justice intervention for substance abusing offenders: drug courts (Cynthia Orr, Sept. 29 Other Views column, Rethink how we fight drugs).

It minimizes the impact of drug courts like the one in Miami-Dade, which has restored more than 12,000 lives and reunited tens of thousands of family members. NACDL only begrudgingly accepts drug courts as an interim improvement over the war on drugs until decriminalization is accomplished.

Two decades of research have proven that drug courts reduce crime, reduce drug abuse and save considerable money for taxpayers. The most conservative estimate is that every $1 invested in drug courts reaps between $2 to $3 in direct cost-savings to society.

Between 50 percent and 80 percent of all crimes are committed by substance abusers. NACDL’S assertion that drug courts are only treating low-level offenders is patently false. The majority of drug courts now treat serious offenders who have failed repeatedly in treatment and other dispositions.

NACDL recommends that drug courts treat high-risk offenders who would otherwise be in jail or prison bound in programs that do not require a guilty plea for entry.

But this would mean that serious and potentially violent offenders would face no legal repercussions whatsoever if they failed to complete treatment or even to attend it. When we consider the safety of our communities such recommendations cannot be taken seriously.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 24, 2009

Drug courts are needed; New Jersey shows why
by Yvonne Smith Segars, New Jersey Public Defender (As New Jersey Public Defender, Yvonne Smith Segars is the head of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, an agency overseeing the Public Defender offices throughout state.)

Last Saturday’s editorial, “Who needs drug courts?,” asks a simple question. In reality, the answer is far more complex. Drug courts are certainly not for everybody, and they were never intended to solve all of the problems plaguing the criminal-justice system.

In New Jersey, with all major stakeholders having a voice at the table, the judiciary, law enforcement, the defense bar, and the addiction-services community worked diligently to create a successful model. Nonviolent offenders clinically addicted to alcohol and drugs are given an opportunity to receive effective treatment.

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender represents more than 90 percent of drug court participants, undermining the claim that drug courts favor a more privileged socioeconomic group. Of the 8,004 people who, with the advice of lawyers at their sides, participated in New Jersey’s drug-court program, 1,577 successfully graduated. While 61 percent of those entering the program complete it, the employment rate at the time of graduation is 90 percent and the percentage of negative drug tests is 96 percent. Within three years of graduating, only 3 percent return to prison for a new crime, compared with a 60 percent rate of recidivism for inmates who do not receive treatment.

Although there are serious concerns raised by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers that need attention, we should not be dismayed nor distracted. Funding should continue for easily accessible substance-abuse education, prevention, and treatment. As a community, we all benefit each and every time a person triumphs over his addiction to alcohol or other drugs and becomes a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen. Who needs drug court? We all do.

Los Angeles Daily Journal
October 22, 2009

Drug Courts Are the Most Sensible and Proven Alternative to Incarceration: So What’s the Problem?
by West Huddleston, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Drug Court Professionals

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recently released a report criticizing 2,100 (there are actually 2,369) Drug Courts that offer effective treatment instead of incarceration for drug addicted offenders. Instead, the NACDL calls for the decriminalization of highly addictive drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine as the solution to the drug problem. According to Cynthia Orr, President of the NACDL, “Drug Courts have not stymied the rise in both drug abuse or exponentially increasing prison costs to taxpayers” because, according to the NACDL report, “Drug Courts focus on first-time or nonviolent offenders.” The evidence says differently.

It is now 20 years since the first Drug Court was initiated and there has been more research published on its effects than on virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. The scientific community has put Drug Courts under a microscope and concluded that Drug Courts work better than jail or prison, better than probation, and better than treatment alone. Most medications have less scientific evidence supporting their safety and benefit to the public. The research is unequivocal: Drug Courts significantly reduce drug abuse and crime and do so at less expense than any other justice strategy; and according to rigorous and replicated studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, the more serious the offender’s drug addiction and length of criminal record, the better Drug Courts work. Drug Courts are not for the fist time or the non-addicted offender. Those individuals will do just as well by diverting them to a disposition that leads to record expungement upon successful completion of court conditions. Drug Courts focus on high-value offenders; those who have the highest need for treatment and other wrap-around services, and who have the highest risk of failing out of those services without support and structure.

Research demonstrates that nationwide, 70% of the approximately 120,000 seriously addicted individuals who voluntarily enter Drug Court with the assistance of their defense attorney complete it a year or more later and 75% of them remain arrest-free. A Drug Court participant is over twice as likely to stay clean and remain arrest-free as a newly released state inmate. Research also concludes that Drug Courts reduce drug abuse and improve employment and family functioning. These effects are not short-lived. The longest study on Drug Court to date shows these outcomes last as much as14 years. And more research is coming out every day.

Still, no one would argue that Drug Courts have realized their full potential. Drug Courts have not been made available to everyone who needs them. Half of U.S. counties do not have a Drug Court and the Drug Courts that do exist only have capacity to serve 10% of the serious drug-abusing and addicted offenders estimated to be in need. That’s the real issue.

New York has implemented a Drug Court in every county in the state. In a three year study, the New York State Court System estimates that $254 million in incarceration costs were saved by diverting 18,000 drug offenders into Drug Court. During the entire fifteen-year time period Drug Courts have been in operation throughout the state, New York has witnessed historic reductions in crime. And through the first half of this year, crime has fallen another 4.7 percent. According to a recent Northwestern University report, alternatives to incarceration like Drug Courts could lead to the closing of four half-empty adult prisons in New York. And a number of states such as Alabama, Missouri, New Jersey and Texas, among others, are following suit. In fact, in 2008, 44 state budgets included a specific appropriation for Drug Courts, totaling $208,000,000 nationwide. The Obama Administration and Congress is also investing in new Drug Courts and increasing the capacity of the 2,369 Drug Court already in existence in all fifty states and U.S. territories with a 250% increase in federal appropriations from the year before. That’s a great start, but far from what we need to reach the 1.2 million seriously drug abusing or addicted offenders who need treatment.

If no other sentencing option can compare with its success, shouldn’t we finish the job and give everyone who needs it access to these life-saving courts? It’s simple really. Drug Courts remain constrained by limited resources and by the more popular thinking that an alcoholic or addict can be punished out of their dependence.

It is no secret that prison has accomplished little to stem the tide of crime or drug abuse. Upon their release from prison, between 60% and 80% of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically a drug-related crime) and 85% to 95% relapse quickly to drug abuse. In some states, such as California, more than 75% will be returned to prison. And amazingly, these disappointing figures have done little to curb prison spending. National expenditures on corrections well exceed $60 billion annually. On average, states spend $65,000 per bed, per year to build new prisons and $23,876 per bed, per year to operate them

Unfortunately, it is also not sufficient to simply offer more treatment. Left to their own devices without intensive supervision by a judge, approximately 25% of offenders never arrive for a single treatment session. And among those who do show for treatment, most drop out prematurely before receiving any benefits. The power and authority of the Court is necessary to keep them engaged in treatment long enough to experience any lasting gains.

Drug Courts are judicially supervised court dockets that strike the proper balance between the need to help addicted offenders get free from the gasp of drugs and the need to protect community safety; between the need for effective treatment and the need to hold people accountable for their actions; between hope and redemption on the one hand and productive citizenship on the other. Drug Courts keep drug-addicted individuals engaged in treatment for long periods of time, while supervising them closely and holding them accountable for their obligations to society, their families and themselves. Participants are regularly and randomly tested for drug use, required to appear frequently in court for the judge to review their progress, and immediately receive rewards for doing well and sanctions for not living up to their obligations. All of this with one simple goal; get the addict clean and sober.

And everybody benefits when an addict gets clean and sober in Drug Court. The most conservative estimates by researchers show that for every 1.00 invested in Drug Court, $3.36 are saved by the justice system and up to $12.00 (per $1 investment) are saved by the community on reduced emergency room visits and other medical care, foster care, and property loss.

In Drug Court, we have an effective intervention that is not being fully implemented. Now is not the time to change course. It is our hope that a drug-addicted citizen should not need to be arrested in order to receive the help they require. But for the 1.2 million drug-addicted arrestees currently involved in the adult criminal justice system, the verdict is in: Drug Court is the solution and the passport to a new way of life. Now we must make the investment and finish the job.

Source: 2010

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