The Success of Drug Courts-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/08/the-success-of-drug-courts-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s show is on drug courts and we have Urban Institute research addressing multiple outcomes from multiple places throughout the country, but it’s just not recidivism or return to crime, but it also measures drug use, socio-economics, status and outcomes, family functioning and mental health. It’s one of the most complete evaluations I’ve ever seen in terms of drug courts. Our guest today is Shelli B. Rossman, Senior Fellow, the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. www.urban.org. Shelli, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Shelli Rossman: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: Shelli, before describing the research I want to state that it addresses 23 drug courts in 8 states. That’s a big evaluation.

Shelli Rossman: Yes, this is the largest drug court study every undertaken and it’s interesting because within those 23 drug courts, in very different demographic areas, we have both large and small courts represented. Rural, suburban and urban courts from major cities, and we selected them so that they represented different parts of the country, where different drug use patterns were represented.

Len Sipes: Now one of the things I did want to get straight from the very beginning is the fact that we’ve had lots of evaluations of drug courts, but this is sort of what we call a meta examination. This is something large, this is something comprehensive, because you know, and you’re talking about different drug courts. So this particular evaluation, I think, is almost the final word on drug courts, or the best assessment that we have in terms of drug courts considering its complexity and the fact that it’s from around the country?

Shelli Rossman: Well, it’s a very comprehensive study. It’s not truly a meta analysis, because it doesn’t do a secondary analysis of data collected by other organizations or researchers. This was really original research in which we selected 23 drug courts based upon a nationwide survey we had done earlier, so that we could find out what the patterns among different drug courts were, and make sure that they were in this study. And then we selected six comparison jurisdictions. So this impact evaluation looks at outcomes for individuals who participate in drug courts compared to similar substance abusers who are participating in whatever is business as usual within their local jurisdiction. So it’s not a comparison of drug court treatment to no treatment, it’s a comparison of drug court treatment to whatever is standard throughout the United States.

Len Sipes: Right, I mean it’s, its pretty close to being an apples and apples comparison.

Shelli Rossman: Yes, it is.

Len Sipes: The title, by the way, is the Multi Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation Executive Summary, again, by the Urban Institute, funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice, I take it?

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct, and it’s actually the Executive Summary has behind it four very detailed volumes that look at the results of our process, impact, and cost/benefit analysis and all of those are available both on the National Institute of Justice’s Drug Court website, and Urban Institutes website.

Len Sipes: And one of the things that I do want to say, as, as I mentioned before we hit the record button, the fact that, you know, the Urban Institute writes good reports.

Shelli Rossman: Thank you.

Len Sipes: There aren’t too many criminological organizations out there that know how to write and provide clear cut findings and clear cut policy implications for those of us on the practitioner side. So, I wanted to thank the Urban Institute for knowing what very few people seem to know in this country: how to write. I mean, the findings are clear and the findings are pretty interesting. So give me a description of the outcomes.

Shelli Rossman: Okay. Well, first of all I’d like to tell you a little bit about the scope of the study itself –

Len Sipes: Please.

Shelli Rossman: Beyond the jurisdictions. In terms of individual outcomes, we had a sample that was almost 1,800 persons strong.

Len Sipes: That’s a lot of people.

Shelli Rossman: It is, it’s large. It was 1,156 drug court participants and 625 substance abusers who were not offered drug courts, but would have been eligible –

Len Sipes: A large sample size.

Shelli Rossman: So they were a match sample. And the sources, we used several different sources of information to generate our findings. One was a series, three waves of very detailed, one and a half to two hour interviews at baseline, when people were either enrolled in drug court or the alternative comparison condition, and then at six months and 18 months later. At the 18 month administration, for those who were eligible and consented, we did a field test, an oral swap, to actually confirm independently whether or not individuals were using.

Len Sipes: Didn’t take their word for it, you proved it.

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Shelli Rossman: And then we also collected administrative, official Criminal Justice Records from the state systems of the eight states and from the FBI and CIC database.

Len Sipes: As to whether or not they’d been arrested?

Shelli Rossman: Correct, correct and their lifetime criminal history –

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So that we could compare over time. We also did a process evaluation that had us surveying the drug courts nationwide and using those, that information for the eight, for the specific 23 courts that participated, and we went and spoke with all the stakeholders, the drug court team, the judges. We also used a systematic rating protocol to observe each of the drug courts and to rate them and rank them on various characteristics of the court operations. So that’s the source of our information. What did we find?

Len Sipes: Yeah, what did you find? I mean everybody’s there going, okay, it’s Urban, it’s Department of Justice, we understand that you do good research, what did you find, Shelli?

Shelli Rossman: So the study, there are a number of drug court studies out there but most have focused on whether or not drug courts have an impact on reducing crime for their participants.

Len Sipes: Right, recidivism.

Shelli Rossman: And we certainly looked at that.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: But as you mentioned earlier, we were also interested in knowing, do they reduce drug use and do they contribute to other positive psycho-social changes?

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So in terms of drug use, we measured self reported, whether individuals reported the use of marijuana, alcohol, and heavy alcohol, which we defined as more than four drinks per day for women and more than five per day for men, whether they reported use of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and hallucinogens and then whether they misused, that is, illegally used prescription drugs, or illegally used methadone.

Len Sipes: All right, so you did the whole gambit, what did you find?

Shelli Rossman: Yes, we did. We found that at the 18 month follow up; looking at their use in the period from six months to 18 months, there was a statistically significant difference between the drug court participants and the comparison group on all drugs.

Len Sipes: All right, statistically significant means it wasn’t by chance, it was the result of the program?

Shelli Rossman: Correct. 56% of drug court participants reported using any of those substances within months six to 18, as compared to 76% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that’s a 20% difference?

Shelli Rossman: Yes, it is, and that’s quite large.

Len Sipes: That’s a very large difference.

Shelli Rossman: Right, and when you, when you remove the two least harmful substances, that is, light alcohol use and marijuana, that difference still stands. 41% of drug court participants report use of the more serious drugs, as compared to 58% of the comparison group. Now –

Len Sipes: So a significant decrease in drug use?

Shelli Rossman: Very.

Len Sipes: And, and we know that drug use is heavily, heavily correlated with criminal activity.

Shelli Rossman: We do, and but we also measured crime independently. But I do want to point out something that’s very important about this. When I’m talking about measuring it through the 18 months, that captures a period of at least several months, post enrollment in the drug courts. So that means that these people have already finished their drug court participation by and large.

Len Sipes: And nobody was watching them.

Shelli Rossman: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And there were no consequences, there were no legal consequences for imbibing?

Shelli Rossman: Correct. Now most drug courts nationwide, and this holds true for most of the drug courts in our sample as well, offer the program for a one year period.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: But people typically have a number of relapses that extends their stay in drug court.

Len Sipes: And that’s, and that’s a natural part of the whole drug treatment process, something that most people don’t realize.

Shelli Rossman: It’s one of the reasons why the courts use graduated sanctions rather than simply failing people out at the first time that they do not remain sober.

Len Sipes: Right, right. It’s not unusual for a person who even if he or she is committed to drug treatment, committed to kicking drugs, to pull a variety of positives.

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Shelli Rossman: And the practical ramification for operating a drug court is it means that a 12 month program typically takes people maybe around 15 months to complete. And so when we’re doing a measure at 18 months, for most of these people, they’ve been out of drug court for several months and they are still sustaining the gains.

Len Sipes: Before getting into the other variables, I do want to talk about criminal activity, because you know, there is one particular finding that I find astounding. Of those reporting criminal activity at the 18 month follow up, drug court participants reported about half as many criminal acts – 43, versus 88 on average in the prior year. Half as many criminal acts. Now I don’t know of many studies, I’m used to seeing 15%. I’m used to seeing good studies being, I mean, very successful studies being 20%. You’ve cut it by half.

Shelli Rossman: Well we cut it, well, that’s not percentage though, that’s the number of criminal acts they reported.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So there are, there’s a difference. There are two different kinds of measurements. So we measured whether or not they reported engaging in crime.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: And if we, if we used the same measure as we used, the same temporal measurement that we use for drug use, so at 18 months we looked at whether they self reported crime from months six to month 18, and there was a significant difference: 40% of the drug court group reported having engaged in crime as compared to 53% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Now that’s not based upon criminal record – that’s based upon surveys?

Shelli Rossman: Self reports.

Len Sipes: Self reports. But you know the interesting part is that there are increasing numbers of research reports based upon self report, and in a lot of cases, self report is not used. When self report is used, a lot of these programs show their full impact or their full potential to have an impact based upon self report. So sometimes I’m wondering why we’re not doing more self reporting and that’s one of the reasons I brought this up.

Shelli Rossman: We did both. And I want to make a couple points –

Len Sipes: Okay, go ahead.

Shelli Rossman: If you’ll let me?

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Shelli Rossman: So that, that looked at a one year period prior to the 18 month mark. We shaved that period and said, “Well, what about the last six months?” Because it might be that they were committing their crimes earlier in their program affiliation.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: And so if we look at only the last six months, 31% of the drug court group, as compared to 43% of the other substance abusing offenders engaged in any kind of crime.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s 31 to what?

Shelli Rossman: 31 to 43%.

Len Sipes: And that’s based upon official records or interviews?

Shelli Rossman: That’s also self report.

Len Sipes: Self reports, okay.

Shelli Rossman: But, but when we look at the official records, we get similar findings.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So we find for instance, that the rearrests, based upon administrative records and that’s at 24 months, 52% of the drug court participants had a rearrest at any point during the 24 months, as compared to 62% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Yeah, a significant, a significant difference.

Shelli Rossman: Ten percentage points, right?

Len Sipes: Okay.

[Audio Ends]

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Pretrial Supervision and Treatment-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2011/12/pretrial-supervision-and-treatment-dc-public-safety-radio/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic is pretrial and treatment in pretrial and one of the main points that I want to make from the very beginning is the fact that where we have two million people in the present system throughout this country, we have  many millions more who are involved in the pretrial process.  They are arrested, they go through the pretrial process and this whole concept of treatment within pretrial, actually from a sheer numerical point of view, takes on much greater importance than those—than the discussion of treatment within the correctional setting.  There are literally millions of people going through the arrest process, going through the pretrial process, all throughout the United States and my guess is that the vast majority of them do not receive treatment of any kind by their pretrial agency.  To talk about this issue, we have two principals.  One is Terrence Walton, he is the Director of Treatment; and two, is Michael McGinnis, he is the Deputy Director of Treatment.  Both represent the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia and they’re my sister agency for the court services and a federal supervision agency.  Pretrial Services is a federal agency like we are at CSOSA.  And to Terrence and to Michael, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Michael McGinnis:  Well, thank you, Len, good to be here.

Terrence Walton:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  All right, gentlemen, first of all, Michael, let’s go and set some basics up.  The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia does what?

Terrence Walton:  Why don’t I take that one if I could?

Michael McGinnis:  Yeah, go ahead.

Terrence Walton:  I’ll take it, all right.  Listen, the agency does a lot and it’s hard to capture it but essentially we’re responsible for two big tasks. The biggest task is and the first task is to assist the court in making release decisions. So when a defendant is arrested and is being considered for release, Pretrial Services conducts an interview, reviews criminal history, talks with the defendant directly, talks sometimes with collaterals to get a sense of who we have, and then recommends to the court either release or detention.  And if they’re going to be released, the many of them we recommend they be released with certain conditions that they must comply with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  That’s our first big task, helping the court make good release decisions.

Len Sipes:  And a good release decision is based principally upon two things:  A) risk to public safety and B) whether or not the defendant will return for trial, do I have that right?

Terrence Walton:  That’s exactly right, that’s exactly right.  There’s lots of ways to say it, but those are the two big things. We don’t want them to jump bail, we don’t want them to disappear and we also don’t want a subsequent arrest if we can help prevent that.

Len Sipes:  And you’re talking about conditions of supervision.  There are many conditions of supervision.  You could put the person under GPS surveillance; have the person constantly being tracked.  There’s a lot of reporting requirements for that person and the treatment component, the very reason why we’re doing the program today, could be a component of pretrial release, it could be a condition of pretrial release.

Terrence Walton:  That is exactly right and in fact, because a significant number of defendants who are arrested in DC are testing positive for drugs or report drug use—in fact it’s about 33% of the adult population test positive for some drug other than marijuana.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  We don’t test for marijuana at lockup, so if we did, it would be twice that number.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  But we’ve talked about cocaine, heroin, PCP, amphetamines.

Len Sipes:  The drugs with the largest correlation to serious crime.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right, 33% of our population will test positive for that coming in the door and that’s 60% of the juveniles will test positive for some drug, and in that case it’s almost always marijuana.  So the size of those populations and for many of those adults, we’re recommending release conditions that include requirements that they drug test and that’s done by our agency and processed in our own lab, as well as other release conditions.  And that’s really the second big task.  The first big task is recommending release conditions.  And the second big task is supervising those conditions and keeping the court aware of how the defendant’s doing.  But I think Michael will agree with this, that it’s not simply just us overseeing and reporting what happens.  Pretrial Services is involved in trying to help motivate defendants, help them do the right thing, figure out their obstacles that will keep them from being able to comply and help them solve those problems.  So we see—we respond to the court, we have a law enforcement responsibility but we’re very much centered on the needs of the defendant and how best we can meet those needs in a way that helps them to do the right thing.

Len Sipes:  Well, Michael, the question goes over to you now.  For many people involved in the criminal justice system, they have mental health issues.

Michael McGinnis:  Um-hm.

Len Sipes:  How do we expect that individual to do well under pretrial or do well under any sort of supervision, whether they come over to us after they’re found guilty—how are they going to do well unless they get the treatment they need to stabilize themselves and to deal with their mental health issues, correct?  I mean, it does come down to that level of basics.

Michael McGinnis:  It definitely does and one of the things that we have here at the Pretrial Services, our Specialized Supervision Unit, and this is a unit that after a defendant is assessed and would be found perhaps with a current issue and they would meet the requirements of this unit, this is a unit that would—specializes in working with that population.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm.

Michael McGinnis:   So they could either be—they would get them immediately connected into a mental health program and a substance abuse program if needed.  If they were going to move them on to a mental health community court, you know, for diversion, that would be part of their job.  But all the PSOs that work in there have a background in working with this population.

Len Sipes:  And PSOs are?

Michael McGinnis:  Pretrial Service Officers.

Len Sipes:  Okay, fine, thanks.

Michael McGinnis:  Right, have a background on this unit and a great interest in working with this current population.  Which has, since I’ve been in this field and it’s been over 20 years working in this field, is this population is probably our most increasing population.

Len Sipes:  Um-hm, yeah, no doubt about it.

Michael McGinnis:  We had, when I started with pretrial, we had one unit, an SSU unit, that’s a Special Supervision Unit, and now, because of need, we have two.  So we have almost 18 Pretrial Services offices serving over 661 people in the program.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.  Terrence, give me a sense as to all the other treatment programs that you guys put on the table for people.

Terrence Walton:  Yeah, Michael mentioned the mental health component.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  We also have a unit that does nothing but assesses. We have a social services assessment center that assesses men and women who are released and even those who are being considered for release, we conduct both addiction assessments as well as mental health assessments from that shop.  Once we identify individuals who need treatment, there are really three big options for them, drug treatment.  One is the drug court program, which is the Superior Court Drug Intervention Program, a pretrial program that has been around since 1993.

Len Sipes:  A successful program that’s been noted nationally.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely and one of the first ever to show up on the scene.  That’s the program of choice.  It has a complete regimen of incentives and sanctions, a single calendar, lots of contact with the judge

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  Lots of opportunities for people to get the help that they need.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  For those—for folks that don’t qualify for drug court because of criminal history or some other disqualifier, we have another program called New Directions, which they can get the same treatment as a drug court defendant. The court supervision isn’t as close because these defendants are on various different calendars and they are incentives and sanctions, but while in drug court, there are both judicial sanctions, sanctions that come from the bench, from the judge as well as administrative sanctions, the ones that come from the supervision officer.  In New Directions, all sanctions are administrative, all administered by the supervising officer.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  Those are the two main programs.  There’s one other option.  Sometimes individuals are not eligible for New Directions either because they’re about to go to sentencing perhaps or some other reason.  We have another track for those, where we’ll put them in treatment somewhere, temporarily, under a sanction contract, primarily to prepare for a transition to CSOSA probation, to probation here in the city.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  So those are the three big options and they are all based on treatment needs.

Len Sipes:  So in essence it is a combination of either substance abuse or mental health, and Michael, these are all, I’m assuming, cognitive-based programs where we help the decision-making process of the individuals involved in the criminal justice system.  I mean, a lot of people don’t quite understand cognitive treatment but we really can, and the research is pretty clear on this, we really can intervene in the lives of other human beings and help them rethink their decision-making process.

Michael McGinnis:  Right, that’s the key word.  I mean, helping someone rethink what they’re doing.  You know, a lot of people that come in when they’re in the throes of an addition or they’re in this mode of what I call concrete-type thinking, that they’re repeating something over and over and getting the same result.  You know, especially in our treatment program, which is our PSA STARS program, most all of our interventions are of the cognitive, behavioral kind.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:   But what’s also important, I just wanted to speak to a point that Terrence was talking about.  In two of our programs, in the New Directions programs and in the drug court programs, the Pretrial Service offices that involved in those programs, they’re not only Pretrial Service offices, they’re also licensed clinicians and licensed substance abuse counselors.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:   So they’re providing not only the supervision but they’re also providing the clinical services, and that’s very unique to that program because they have a key perspective in working with the offender.

Len Sipes:  Well, that’s one of the points that I wanted to make.  Gentlemen, let’s cut to the chase. We are not just talking about pretrial in the District of Columbia; we’re talking about pretrial throughout the United States.

Michael McGinnis:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  Well, for that matter, we’re talking about pretrial in the western industrialized world.  Same situations for Canada, same situations for England, same situations for Australia, New Zealand, France.  These are all the same issues that everybody is wrestling with throughout the country.  We, in the District of Columbia, because we’re a federal agency, we have resources that the overwhelming majority of pretrial agencies do not have.  To my knowledge, the overwhelming majority of pretrial agencies don’t have a dime for treatment.  They have to put this person into a waiting list someplace and that person could wait quite some time before they get involved in treatment and for the love of heavens, they could have their trial before every get involved in treatment.  So there is that difference, we have to admit that right up front, correct?

Terrence Walton:  That’s correct.

Len Sipes:  Okay, the second thing is that you can tell within the stats.  I mean, we have one of the best return to trial rates in the United States.  Our stats are quite good.  And probably one of the reasons why they’re good is that we do have people involved in treatment programs because the research is abundantly clear it can’t just be a matter of supervision.  As I said to Michael at the very beginning, if you have somebody with a mental health problem, they need treatment.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  So if you combine treatment with supervision, you get better results.

Terrence Walton:  I think that’s right.  And Len, I want to add one other I think difference between what we have here in DC and what exists elsewhere in the country that doesn’t cost any money and that is, we have a Bail Act.  We have a statute that really supports Pretrial Services.  Most folks don’t know this but there are very few bail bondsmen in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Are there any?

Terrence Walton:  Very few.  There may be one or two but there are very few.  Because Pretrial Services as an industry, as a field I should say, has a belief in pretrial justice, essentially saying that if an individual needs to be detained, if they’re dangerous, they should be detained regardless of ability to pay.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  And if they don’t need to be detained, if they’re not a danger to society, then it’s fundamentally unfair for them to be held merely because they can’t afford to post bond.  So instead, we have a Bail Act, which heavily encourages the court to consider release of those who are safe to release with conditions, that pretrial supervises, that helps to assure public safety and return to court.  And that doesn’t cost money, that takes political will and it takes advocacy and it takes being able to battle the interest groups that wouldn’t like that.

Len Sipes:  Well, it does take come money because I would imagine judges sitting on the Superior Court for the District of Columbia know that there are treatment options, know that there are GPS options for following that person 24 hours a day if necessary, know that our staffing levels are probably lower than most pretrial agencies throughout the country.  My guess would be that the judge within the Superior Court here in the District of Columbia, they would be more apt to release a person on pretrial because they know they’re going into a top-rated organization that generally speaking does an excellent job of returning that person to trial

Michael McGinnis:  And I agree with you 100% and they also know that when a substance abuse problem is identified or a mental health issue is identified and is treated, the failure to appear and the re-arrest rates go down with the population that we’re working with.

Len Sipes:  Right, so they have –

Michael McGinnis:  And that is very big.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, and if a judge in Milwaukee wants to put the person on pretrial, I would imagine he or she is going to say, well, you know, well, they were handling cases of 200 to 1, 200 defendants to 1 Pretrial Services officer, they have on room for treatment, gee, I’d better stick this person in jail.  So I would imagine that you save the system money as well as have a higher rate of success.

Terrence Walton:  Well that’s exactly right.  I mean, some of us are motivated by the fact that it seems fundamentally fairer to do it this way, but others, the reality is, is it saves money. That if we can allow a person to stay in their community and at the meantime address their pro-social needs, we save in jail costs.  That’s another important point.

Len Sipes:  Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today are Terrence Walton, he’s the Director of Treatment; and Michael McGinnis, the Deputy Director of Treatment for the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia, a federal agency.  The website is: www.psa.gov.  As I move throughout the country and as I talk to my counterparts throughout the country, they ask about Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.  It’s one of the best-known pretrial agencies in the country and having one of the best reputations.  Principally I think, because we have a level of funding that so many other agencies simply do not have and the level of training and a level—you’re just a good agency and I think people recognize that within the criminal justice system throughout the country.  Alright, where do we go to from here?  So the average person in the District of Columbia, the average person in Milwaukee—why am I bringing up Milwaukee so many times today?  The average person in Honolulu, the average person in Anchorage, Alaska says to themselves, the police finally got this idiot who’s been bothering the community and three hours later, he’s back on the street.  Where is the justice in that?  So you guys face that issue all the time.  I mean, we have to hit that square, that nail squarely on the head and what people don’t understand is that they are defendants, they are not offenders and within our system, you are not guilty until you’re proven guilty, correct?

Michael McGinnis:  That’s correct.

Terrence Walton:  No, that’s right, and you know, there’s a balance here, that there’s a constitutional presumption of innocence and that means that unlike convicted offenders, the individuals who have not yet actually been convicted of their offense, have certain rights, and that we go to great effort to be sure that we’re using the least restrictive means possible to assure community safety.  Now I want to put a caveat there because we respect the presumption of innocence, but recognize the possibility of guilt.  And so because of that second piece, that’s the reason why we also assess criminal history, we assess the seriousness of the charge so that in the event this person is guilty, how serious is this, and that is factored into our recommendations.

Len Sipes:  And you’re not talking about a short assessment, you’re talking about a rather lengthy, well thought-out assessment in terms of trying to get at that person’s risk to the community and that person’s treatment needs and that person’s past criminal history.  I mean, it’s a pretty complete overview that you do with that individual.  When you make those recommendations to the court, you probably know more about that person than his kid brother.

Terrence Walton:  Well, that may be true and it happens in a couple of stages.  There was the initial stage, pre-release, where we do a comprehensive interview and review the records that we have to make initial decisions.  But also other factors are considered there, that there are sometimes prosecutors who have positions and defense attorneys who have information, that’s all presented to the court as they’re making a release decision.  Once the defendant is released, if he or she is released to our supervision, then if we have any reason to think they need one, we do an additional assessment, a clinical needs assessment that’s designed to look at both treatment needs, at mental health needs as well as social service needs.

Len Sipes:  And many people caught up in the criminal justice system do have needs.  I mean, there was a piece of research out a little while ago and now—I remarked on Milwaukee or kept bringing Milwaukee up a little while ago, now I’m bringing mental health back up—that 55%, according to a Department of Justice document, 55% of people called up in the criminal justice system self-assess or assess themselves.  It was not a political designation but they did a self-assessment as having mental health issues.  So this issue of mental health is something that is really driving much of our service component within the criminal justice system, assuming we have the programs there to service them to begin with.

Michael McGinnis:   I think unfortunately, our prisons have been used as our mental health treatment centers in this country and as you’re saying, most people, when they—  To go back, I just want to go back to what you were talking about—

Len Sipes:  Please, please, Michael.

Michael McGinnis: -our funding here.  It’s not only that we have the funding to provide these services.  Our Director, Susan Shaffer, is also a real believer in the treatment of the offender that comes in and she puts a lot of her energies and times into this.  And it really is a big piece of our agency because before I came to pretrial, I’d been running programs for alternatives to incarcerations, therapeutic communities.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael McGinnis:  Taking programs behind the wall.  And people are just cycling in and out of these, of our prisons without having these issues identified.

Len Sipes:  But that’s the fundamental problem because I’ve talked to my peers throughout the country and they’re going to go, Leonard, I hear you on your daggone radio programs and you focus on public safety first, but you say that you have to have these treatment components because the research is clear that supervision doesn’t work unless you have a treatment component, and I got news for you, Leonard, I don’t have a dime for treatment.  You know, but I want that person to get mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, if I want to find some assistance in terms of that person getting work or getting occupational training, I’ve go to put him in a long line, where that person basically waits for months, unless I get a court order to move that person to the head of the line.  There’s a lot of frustration out there, we all believe in treatment, we all believe in that component being necessary, but most of us don’t have the money for it.

Terrence Walton:  Well, there’s no easy answer to that.  What many communities have done is done the best they can to leverage the resources that exist.  There is professional treatment, there are faith-based organizations, there are peer support groups, which isn’t formal treatment, but it can sometimes do the same job.  There are lots of options in most communities, especially around alcohol and drug issues, for people who need help to get some of that.  You know, I also encourage—there continues to be federal monies and state monies and grants available for organizations who have a will to go after it.  It’s just worth doing it.

Michael McGinnis:   I think it’s—but it’s a great point, Terrence, because you and I were just kind of talking about this earlier this morning, is the whole field is moving more towards this recovery-orientated system of care, where we’re kind of looking at some—that treatment, that line for treatment is different for everyone and there are many options, like faith-based options, there are community options, I think a lot of these other pretrial service organizations that might not have the funding, you know, to have their own treatment centers or put people in treatment—they need to look to these community organizations, to start partnering with these community organizations in hopes of linking their offenders up to services.

Len Sipes:  Well, and everybody’s got to come together and make this a priority.  I mean, there is limited treatment monies available, but as you all have said, I mean, there’s the Salvation Army, there’s the faith-based community, there are private individuals, there are people who will do this on a pro bono basis.  You’ve got to have the will to go out there and make those connections and that becomes extraordinarily important.  But I do believe that again, one of the reasons why we do as well as we do is because look at the two of you—I mean, we have the Director and Assistant Director of Treatment for a pretrial agency.  I mean, there are people, organizations out there that would kill to have a Terrence Walton and a Michael McGinnis sitting before their microphones.

Terrence Walton:  Well, Len, you know, it starts with the will though.  I mean, it starts with the desire, recognition that it’s important, that it’s necessary. And I want to take a minute to share something with our listeners that I think is important, that helps to underscore why it’s so important that we address the underlying issues of men and women who come through our systems.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a really collection of physicians who practice addiction medicine and who sort of govern the field and give us guidance and space on research and medicine to help us understand addiction and addition recovery.  And they’ve recently come out with a new policy statement that we don’t have time to go over—I hope people will go to asam.org to see more details.  But they’ve given for the first time a policy statement defining addiction.  And let me give you the most interesting piece of that to me, that they have defined addition primarily as a brain disease, a disease that affects a couple of major systems in the brain.  One is the reward system, as well as the command center, the logic and reason system of the brain.  And here’s what important.  They have through PET scans and SPECT images and MRTs, they have been able to look at brain activity and identify deficits in those areas of active addicts. But here’s what’s interesting.  We’ve known that for a long time and we’ve assumed that it’s the drug use that has caused those problems.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  What ASAM and other researchers have discovered is that for many, probably most current addicts, those brain deficiencies existed before they ever picked up a drug.

Len Sipes:  That’s interesting.

Terrence Walton:  It might have been genetic or as a result of traumatic life experiences growing up that changed the –

Len Sipes:  A biological predisposition.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  That biological predisposition, by the way, is clearly there established for alcoholism as well.

Terrence Walton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  So why wouldn’t that biological predisposition be there for substance abuse.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.  So there’s the biological piece as well as the environmental that they have done studies on monkeys and others that—and I wish I had time to tell you about one—but where they demonstrated that by changing the environmental situation, by depriving organisms of nurturing and affiliation, that they change their brains.

Len Sipes:  Give the public a sense of hope here because I’ve said that the research is abundantly clear.  They do better with a combination of supervision.  And we’re not leaving out the supervision component.  Whether that person’s in treatment or not, we still supervise that person to the best of our availability and that could include, again GPS supervision where we track them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  We’re not leaving out the supervision component.  And sometimes supervision is an integral part of treatment.  Sometimes that supervision officer, their first question is, are you taking your medication, are you going to treatment?  Well, we know whether they’re going to treatment regardless.  So sometimes that supervision component is an integral part of the treatment component but the bottom line is, to the public who, you know, say to themselves, you know, look, I’ve got schools underfunded, I’ve got the elderly to take care of, you’re talking about treatment for criminals for the love of heavens—defendants, I understand.  You know, we have to give them a sense of hope that what we do is successful and not only in the life of that individual, but we are protecting them by doing this and we’re doing that correct?

Michael McGinnis:  Well, of course we are.  I mean, I think as we all know here, there’s not enough jail cells across this country to put people in and treating people is a lot less expensive than putting people behind—

Len Sipes:  So it’s going to save them their taxpaying dollars.

Michael McGinnis:  There’s studies out for every dollar that’s invested in treatment.  There’s a savings of $4 on that individual.

Len Sipes:  And years ago, Rand said it was 7 to 1.

Michael McGinnis:  Yeah.

Len Sipes:  We’re also protecting public safety though.

Michael McGinnis:  Right.

Len Sipes:  I mean, that is a message that needs to be put on the table that their life is going to be safer if we provide substance abuse treatment or mental health treatment.

Terrence Walton:  If you don’t treat an addict, if you simply incarcerate an addict, when they come out eventually, and the vast majority of men and women who are incarcerated are eventually released.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  They will still be an addict.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Terrence Walton:  And so all of the problems that causes to our property and our lives and well-being will just continue.  It is a smart investment to see if we can address those issues and the justice system is helpful because it gives—holds people accountable and it gives them a little external motivation to stick with it, to go to the groups, to take the medicine until it kicks in naturally.  It’s an essential component.

Len Sipes:  But get back to the public safety point again because I do want to keep hammering this point home.  If the person doesn’t do well, the person doesn’t go to treatment, doesn’t take their medication, is not enthusi—well, not enthusiastically involved—is not meaningfully involved in the treatment process, we go back to the court and they could choose to incarcerate that person until trial.

Terrence Walton:  Well, that’s right, there’s some whose releases are revoked based on a decision that they are a danger to society if they aren’t treated successfully.  And there’s also in the drug court, there’s a number of other possible sanctions short of incarceration that’s designed to punish the behavior quickly and briefly and encourage them to get back on track.

Len Sipes:  And motivate them all at the same time.

Terrence Walton:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  To get back on the track.  Okay, final minute of the program.  We save the public, the research states that we save the public a ton of money through the treatment and supervision process, number two that we enhance public safety, their odds of being victimized by this individual are greatly decreased, so we do that.  What am I missing, what is the final word on what the public needs to hear?

Terrence Walton:  Oh, I guess the final word would be that this matters to each and every one of us, that most of us have been affected by addiction and crime, one way or the other and this is a good, wise investment for anyone who cares about this.  And I encourage communities out there to do the best they can to make it happen.

Len Sipes:  Terrence, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guests today, Terrence Walton, Director of Treatment and Michael McGinnis, the Deputy Director of Treatment of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia.  It’s a federal agency, www.psa.gov.  The program that Terrence mentioned in terms of drug standards, substance abuse standards, asam.org.  Ladies and gentlemen again, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate your calls, we appreciate your letters, we appreciate your emails and we appreciate your guidance and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Special Courts in Washington, D.C. DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to DC Public Safety – radio and television shows on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  The program today is on special courts, and we have two extraordinarily honorable individuals today to talk about special courts within the District of Columbia.  We have the Honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the Honorable Judge Melvin Wright, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  There’s a variety of special courts within the Superior Court system here in the District of Columbia.  There are quite a few of them, and you know, special courts have been in the news a lot lately.  We have the Center for Court Innovation talking about community courts, putting out a new film recently, and the Justice Policy Institute, they put out a new report talking about drug courts widening the net of the criminal justice system when they should be a public health issue, so special courts is in the news, and there are a lot of them in the superior court, and to Judge Lee and Judge Wright, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Milton Lee, Jr:  Thank you very much for having us.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Judge Lee, there are special courts in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.  Please describe them.

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think we’re at a total right now of nine specialty or treatment model courts.  We started with a drug court back in the 90s, we now have community courts on both the U.S. side and wards 6 and 7, we have a DC traffic community court as well, we’ve got the new housing conditions court, we have a prostitute and John court, juvenile drug court, family treatment court, we also have, what I preside over is the fathering court, and then one of the newer courts that we have, our mental health diversion courts on both the adult and the juvenile side, I think that covers the gamut.

Len Sipes:  That’s a lot of special courts.  Judge Wright, why do we have all of these courts?

Melvin Wright:  Well, part of the reason for the courts is to solve the problems that come in.  Traditionally, most of these courts were involved in prosecution, and the traditional model doesn’t always work, and so part of what community courts do is to get involved in finding out what the roots of the problem are and try to solve it with the goal of trying to keep those cases from coming before us in the first place.

Len Sipes:  I think people, when they hear of all these special courts, I’m not quite sure if all people who listen to this program understand this, but I’ve interviewed judges from around the United States, and a lot of programs, a lot of the innovation within the criminal justice system today seems to be coming from the judiciary.  There are a lot of justices, Red Hook up in Brooklyn, New York, comes to mind, where they really literally changed the face of the criminal justice system in that area in Brooklyn and dramatically reduced crime, and that was a judge led program.  Now I could rattle off another 10 or 20 programs that were judge led, but it strikes me that after my 40 years in the criminal justice system, where judges were sort of in the background, sort of only there to bring, to adjudicate cases, now a lot of judges seem to be stepping up and taking leadership roles, and that’s the sense that I’m getting from you guys in terms of the numerous special courts that you have in the Superior Court.  Who wants to take that?

Melvin Wright:  Well, I think that’s true.  One of the reasons that we started the drug court program many years ago was because of the revolving door that we saw with defendants who would come before us.  What would traditionally happen is, someone would violate a crime, speaking specifically regarding drug charges, someone would be charged with either possession or distribution of drugs, they come before the court, they would plead guilty or be found guilty, they’d be put either on probation or incarcerated, but they would never receive any treatment, and so they would get back into the same habits that got them there in the first place, and so one of the things that we thought about, and one of the reasons for the drug court program was to try to treat the individuals.  If you don’t treat someone who has a drug addicted problem, and because of budget cuts and many reasons, there wasn’t a lot of treatment going on in the jails, when they’re released from jails, they come home and fall back into the same problems that got them there in the first place, so the drug court program specifically was designed to help treat the people who had these drug addicted issues.

Len Sipes:  So the whole idea is to solve a problem, not simply to adjudicate people as they wander through the criminal justice system.  I mean, all of us who have been around for any length of time at all understand that people flow through the system.  There’s an endless, endless flow of people.  Crime is at record lows throughout the United States.  In terms, crime generally speaking, at 20 year lows according to the FBI and to the National Crime Survey, but nevertheless, there doesn’t seem to be, there seems to be an endless supply of people being arrested and being processed by the courts, so unless we intervene at some level, that issue of that constant flow of people coming into the criminal justice system never stops, correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think most people, if you would look at just the traditional model of processing cases, people come into the system, they figure out the guilt or innocence issue, whether it be by a plea of guilty or going to trial, and you get to that issue about what do you do at the end.  And part of what our experience has been is that we can frontload some of these services, really connect to people, give them what they need to try and solve some of these problems, and really have a different result at the end.  The idea of delaying service until there’s an adjudication is really an older model.  Treatment courts, you move it right up to the front and you hope that you solve some of those problems, and at the back end, the idea is to reduce recidivism.

Len Sipes:  Right.  The whole idea is not just to reduce recidivism, I understand your term, your use of the term recidivism, but to the public, it’s reducing crime.  The fact that these people are going to get drug treatment, get mental health treatment, they’re going to be more meaningfully involved with the treatment process, and they’re not going to commit future crimes, correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  Absolutely, and I think when you look at the way that the courts have functioned, that’s exactly what you see.  Now we’ve started to branch out into other areas, like the new housing conditions court, where its essentially the same model, it’s a problem solving approach to what is brought to the court.

Len Sipes:  Now tell me about that.  So people are saying, okay, I understand drug court, I understand mental health court, and there are even veterans’ courts out there throughout the country, but a housing court, tell me about the hosing court and what it does.

Melvin Wright:  Well, the housing conditions calendar began because of, sort of corroboration between the court and the legislature.  There were many citizens in the District of Columbia who were complaining about the fact that they had problems with their house or apartment, and the landlords were not making repairs, and the only way that they could get the matter into court was to wait for the landlord to sue them in landlord-tenant court, and to raise those issues as a defense, and so the court took on the role of trying to create a means in which we could expedite these kinds of cases, and so what we did is we followed the model that is in landlord-tenant and small claims court, where a person can file a complaint, they don’t need to have a lawyer, and they can come before the court and explain what the situation is, and then the court can have the landlord come in, and the court can find out what the problems are, and so a tenant does not have to wait until they are sued by the landlord to come into court, they have a remedy by being able to bring their own lawsuit to have the landlord brought into court, and the judge, once having both parties in front of them, can resolve the problems.

Len Sipes:  Now Judge Wright, okay, to the average person listening to the program, they’re saying, and this means what?  We understand the concept; we understand where you’re going with that.  What does that result in, in terms of the greater good for the larger community?

Melvin Wright:  Well, if you have a problem with rodents, if you have lack of heat, if you do not have appliances that work, a stove, a refrigerator, the essentials that you need in life to survive daily, you can come into court and get those matters resolved fairly quickly, as opposed to the traditional legal model, where you would file a civil action, you would wait several months before you would even see a judge, and then the disposition of that case may take anywhere from six months to a year.  Under our system here, the design is to have it done within 90 days, and so if you don’t have heat in the wintertime, that is a life threatening event.

Len Sipes:  Which is the very essence of the concept, problem solving courts, because what you’re doing is solving problems within the community?  Am I taking this to too broad of a degree when I suggest that people move, they abandon homes, communities are hurt because these problems remain unresolved, and that what you’re doing is resolving these issues now, keeping people in their homes, satisfying both the landlord and the tenant, and that stabilizes community, and that reduces crime?

Melvin Wright:  Yes, I think that’s true, and the other benefit is that, as Judge Lee suggested, we can be more proactive instead of reactive.  The traditional model, as Judge Lee has pointed out, is one where we wait until the end before we do anything.  Under these scenarios, we can take care of them immediately, so if we have a landlord who comes in, and I have 5-10 tenants in that same building, then I know there’s a problem with that particular landlord, and we can deal with that immediately as opposed to waiting some time down the line to try to resolve the problem, so the whole idea is to get a jump on the situation before it can get out of hand, and the court has an interest in doing this, because if we can, it’s much easier to address a problem closer to the beginning than it is at the end.  Once it deteriorates, it makes it much more difficult to find solutions, and the bottom line is, is that whether it’s sentencing, or at the end of a civil action, we’re still going to have to come up with some kind of solution to the problem anyway.

Len Sipes:  Right.  So why not do it when the problem is solvable, why wait until the problem deteriorates to the point where there are no real solutions, and you’re going to have to impose, I guess, draconian levels of resolutions, why not take care of those issues up front?  And that streamlines the issue for the court and creates a better housing, a set of housing conditions for the citizens of the District of Columbia, correct?

Melvin Wright:  Correct.  So if we can get a landlord to fix the property before it becomes in such disrepair that it needs to be condemned by the city, then we’ve saved the citizens and the city an enormous amount of time and money.

Len Sipes:  Now, but again, get back to this issue of leadership within the judiciary, because again, my criminal justice training, when I started off 40 years ago, judges were unapproachable, they didn’t come to meetings, they didn’t sit down with law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, juvenile justice, and they didn’t sit down with anybody, they basically heard cases, and you can see decade after decade after decade, judges saying, you know, I think there’s a better solution to these problems.  I think that we, within the judiciary, can be problem solvers.  I’m going to convene and get together with other parts of the criminal justice system, and we’re going to explore this issue, and we’re going to see if we can do a better job.  That seems to be happening more and more.  Am I correct?

Milton Lee, Jr:  I think you’re right 100%.  Judge Wright and I sit all day long on our calendars, and then we meet all evening long, and then during the lunch hours, and every other nook and cranny of time that we have to try to develop these partnerships, because this is not something that courts can do alone.  It can’t be done in a vacuum, and so you look at every single one of these problem solving courts, and you’ll see a number of other government and private sector entities that are the partnerships that really make it go.  You can say the court is the leader, because that’s where the court, where the case comes to, but it can’t be done without this collaborative approach.

Len Sipes:  But there does seem to be, in my mind, I mean, I was trained to view judges as those who walk on water.  I was trained to view judges on this lofty plane, put them up there on that pedestal, and whatever the judge says is fine.  You never disagree with the court.  It’s Your Honor this, and Your Honor that, and that’s how I was trained.  That’s my training, and in terms of my 40 years involvement in the criminal justice system, but I spoke to one drug court judge a couple years ago who, she said “I’m sick and tired of seeing this problem unresolved case after case, year after year, decade after decade, I took leadership because I was sick and tired of seeing the system fail and continue to fail in terms of the way that we traditionally did things.  When you have a judge do that, that takes on a special connotation for the rest of us in the criminal justice system.  I sometimes get the sense that judges carry an enormous amount of weight, and so when a judge says, I want you in this meeting, Mr. Chief of Police of Madame Chief of Police or Parole and Probation, or courts, or jails, or whoever it happens to be, those people show up, and they really do pay attention to the judge.  I think judges carry a special status within the criminal justice system.  I think the public sees it that way, I think the criminal justice system sees it that way, and I think offenders who we deal with on a day-to-day basis see it that way.  Your opinion.

Melvin Wright:  Well, I think you’re correct, and I want to second what Judge Lee said, that this is not just judges alone.  This is clearly a partnership.  Every one of those community courts that we have doesn’t work unless we have the partnership of those people who are involved.  That being said, somebody has to help with the leadership role, and because the inherent nature of our position permits us to have power, it gives us the opportunity to bring people together.  Now I always believe that the fact that you have power doesn’t mean you need to use it, and so if you can have cooperation, then there’s no need to use the power that you have.  However, when you don’t have cooperation, then you have the opportunity to exercise the power that you have.  For example, in the housing conditions calendar, if a landlord comes to me and tells me he does not want to make repairs, I have the authority to tell him that he can either be sanctioned with money, he could be put in jail, there are a number of things that can happen if he doesn’t want to cooperate.  I fortunately haven’t had to do that in the majority of the cases, and so I think the very nature of the position helps people see that they’ve got to cooperate and to do the things that they are legally required to do.

Len Sipes:  The judge who I interviewed from the Red Hook community from New York basically, I’m not, these aren’t his words, but my impression from just talking with him, it was, look, I was sick and tired of this problem, I called everybody together, and nobody’s going to refuse a judge.  That’s the sense that I got.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re halfway through the program, quickly halfway through the program, we’re talking today to the honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the honorable Judge Melvin Wright, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  I want to go down the list of special courts that we have here in Washington, DC: housing court, prostitution court, fathering court, family court, drug court for both adults and juveniles, mental health court, community courts in ward 6 and 7, traffic community court and mental health community court, and I do want to get into drug court questions.  The basic philosophy behind drug court is what?

Milton Lee, Jr:  Well, the basic philosophy by a drug court is to treat people who are drug addicted and who are committing crimes to support their addiction.  If you can, if you steal, if you rob because you need to have money to support your addiction, if you’re able to treat someone so they don’t have the addiction, then the natural consequence is there’s no need for them to rob or steal from somebody.  So the point of the drug court program is to treat those people who commit crimes, and in most cases, the reason they commit the crimes is because they’re trying to feed their habit, so if we can get them to get rid of their habit, then it serves our purpose in terms of reducing crime as well.

Len Sipes:  I spoke to a judge one time in a rural area who said, you know what, Leonard, we’ve been doing these specialized courts forever.  It’s just that we in a rural area have the wherewithal, I know the chief of police personally, I know the head of parole and probation personally, I know the person who runs the jail personally, I have lunch with them occasionally, and we know the offenders who come before us personally, so we’ve been working these special courts.  He said, you all in the urban areas, you have these special courts, and we have been doing diversion in terms of putting a person in drug treatment for decades, so the sense was, is that we within urban areas, in the cities throughout the United States, had to create what happens naturally within the smaller courts.  Am I in the ballpark, or am I completely wrong?

Milton Lee, Jr:  He may well be true, but one of the things that you just have to keep in mind for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on average, we see 10,000 people a day in the building in the various courts.  It’s an extraordinary number of people.  The court has really become the central focus of so many people in their lives, and that’s why we have so many services available, because people come to us looking for solutions now.  These problem solving courts is an outgrowth of that.

Len Sipes:  10,000 people.  That’s an enormous amount of people.  I’m right down the street from the Superior Court, and when I have my morning cup of coffee, I look down and I see the lines, so those 10,000 people are evident just in terms of the people waiting to get into the courts.

Melvin Wright:  And if you think about how we were treating the drug cases before, there was a period of time where there was a lock them up mentality.  Let’s take them off the street, let’s incarcerate them and take them out of society, but the problem is that there was a cost to that.  If you look at the cost to incarcerate an individual, it can be anywhere from $30-40,000 a year, and we’re talking about any criminal offense, so if you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re going to tax, drain your tax base.  When you look at the treatment model, that cost can be anywhere from $3-5,000, so there’s a tremendous, and we’re talking about per person, so there’s a, so if you don’t believe that you should try to help people, then the argument that it’s fiscally responsible to do it should work as well, so we’re taking a position that both work.  We have a responsibility to try to get people who are addicted off drugs, and the programs themselves are very intense.  This is not a walk in the park.  We’re not letting people off.  We drug treat, drug test them twice a week, so if they’re using, we know immediately, and if they are using, there’s immediate punishment, so the model that we have set up not only is effective in a responsible way, but is also fiscally responsible as well.

Len Sipes:  A lot of accountability and you know what’s happening throughout the country is correctional systems throughout the United States are really suffering.  There are governors in states, and I get a variety of news summaries that are sent to me on a day to day basis, and you can see it every single day, of this state cutting out 20% of their lower end population, the other state releasing lower end offenders two months early, that the judges, the governors are basically saying that we can no longer afford to provide this level of service, so the entire country is looking for a model, a different way of doing things, because the states can no longer afford record levels of incarceration.  So the fiscal issue is there.  Does, do these special courts satisfy the individual citizen’s need for justice?  Not the person attending the court, but the individual citizen’s perception as, that this is, this floats my boat, this provides me with a sense that justice is being done?

Milton Lee, Jr:  There’s probably a two part answer to that, and I’m going to speak really specifically about the fathering court program, because I preside over that.  And this is what we ask the men who come into the program to do, and it’s essentially four things.  We ask them, when they come home from a period of incarceration to start working, and we will get them employment.  Second, we ask them to pay child support.  If we get them working, we’re going to get child support, because it comes through wage withholding.  We get the money before they get their money.  We ask them to have a significant connection to their children, and we ask them lastly not to reoffend.  If we can accomplish those four things, I think what you’ll see is families that begin to heal.  You’ll see men being responsible fathers, you’ll see mothers appreciative to have any assistance that they deserve to have.  Now I don’t know how you frame justice in that context, but that type of response to the issue of child support and raising children in the District of Columbia is certainly just to the kids.

Len Sipes:  It’s just to the average person, the average citizen is going to say, yep, that’s justice.  That is justice.  The father is reconnected with the family, both fiscally and hopefully spiritually, and this is obviously in the public’s best interest.

Melvin Wright:  From the drug court point of view, most families have been struggling with the individual’s use of drugs for many years before they even come, and so they’re always asking us to get their son or their daughter treatment.  They’ve had the experience of having their child or son or daughter steal from them personally, trying to find ways, trying to convince them, because sometimes a person who is addicted needs to be in a situation where they don’t, no longer have the choice.  They have the choice to be in the program or not be in the program, but once they’re in the program, there’s discipline that is applied that they must follow, and if they don’t do it, then there’s consequences.  So from the community’s point of view, I think they’re, one of the reasons this started was because people said, these people need treatment, not jail, and so from that point of view, I think the community applauds us, and I think that’s one of the reasons why this has been adopted throughout the country.  We started this early in the 90s, but now Maryland, Virginia, and practically every state in the union, if they don’t have a program like this, they have some modified version of it.

Len Sipes:  Right, there are hundreds of drug courts throughout the country.  I guess what I was looking at it from the standpoint was, the victim’s point of view, because if I’m the victim of that person, there’s a certain sense of retribution, I guess, that I’m looking for, or justice that I’m looking for, and I think what people don’t quite understand is that being in drug treatment and being held accountable for the first time in your life and exploring why you’ve been involved in drug use for these past decades and being constantly drug tested and being constantly under supervision by community supervision officers, that’s one of the hardest things that they will ever encounter in their lives, so I think, once it’s explained that way, the public sees it both sides.  The offender is being held accountable, and he is paying a price through drug court.  Am I right, or am I being utopian about it?

Melvin Wright:  No, you’re absolutely right, and I think what you’ll find is that most victims, as you describe them, would want a person to have drug treatment.  I don’t think people who are victims of persons who have been drug addicted have this idea that they need to go to jail and stay there.  I think if they understand what the person has gone through to get to this point, I think they follow the model that most citizens do, that we need to help this person become a citizen, a productive citizen, and one of the things that was most impressive to me when I was in the drug court program is that you’re really dealing with people, and quite frankly, my experience there was the best experience I’ve had since I’ve been on the bench, because you as a judge talk individually to the defendant, and you have an interaction with each other, which you don’t have in any other court, and so they get to know you, you get to know them, you talk straight to them, you make them realize that, look, we can still send you to jail.  Those things haven’t gone away.  So someone doesn’t follow the treatment model, doesn’t want to cooperate, we still have the same things that we have done traditionally, but here’s an opportunity for you to change your life, and I can’t do it.  You have to do it.  I can be here, and all the people here in the program can help you, but the bottom line is that you’re the one that has to perform.

Len Sipes:  And the research seems to suggest, Your Honors, that a police officer can say this, a parole and probation agent can say it, somebody at the jail can say it, it doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as that person wearing the robe in that court with the flags, with the bailiff, with the court reporters, there’s something about a judge saying it that carries weight that the rest of us do not have.  Now I’m not, it’s not my suggestion, I’ve read this in a variety of research reports, so it strikes me that maybe, just maybe, all of this conceptually may not be the driving force.  Maybe the driving force is the judge behind the bench saying it, and not the parole and probation agency saying it.

Milton Lee, Jr:  I don’t disagree with you at all, but I want to underscore something that Judge Wright said.  It’s easy for judges to use power and to be coercive.  These things work because the people in the program want to make a change, and when the judges take the role of having a very personal interaction with the people before them, it’s different from the regular model.  As you see, people respond to that, because if they’ve been through this system before, they haven’t had that type of response, and they do respond to it, because they know for a change the judge is intimately involved with your success.

Len Sipes:  And you’re not just a figure in the system.  If you come back, and you now have those three drug positives, Judge Lee and Judge Wright’s going to know about you.  You’re not an anonymous figure; it’s not like morning bail hearings where you’re going through hundreds of individuals.  You know the individual coming back to your court.  You know his circumstances, you know her circumstance, that’s a little frightening, I think, to offenders who have traditionally gone through a criminal justice system rather anonymously.
Melvin Wright:  Well, an analogy I like to use is, it’s like the pitcher in baseball or the quarterback in football.  Yes, we as judges have a large role in that, but we can’t do anything without other players, so to speak, so the pitcher can throw the ball, but if there’s not a catcher back there, it’s not going, it’s going to go far away and never be seen again.  So if the quarterback doesn’t throw it to the wide receiver, he’s not going to score a touchdown.

Len Sipes:  Your Honor, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen, at our microphones today, the honorable Judge Milton Lee, Jr., Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the honorable Judge Melvin Wright of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  Ladies and Gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate the calls and letters and emails.  Keep ‘em coming, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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