Drug Court in Washington, D.C.

Drug Court in Washington, D.C.

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Podcast at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/01/drug-court-washington-d-c/

LEONARD SIPES: From the Nation’s Capital, this is DC Public Safety. Welcome to the first radio show for DC Public Safety for 2015. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. The program today is the Superior Court’s Drug Court’s Program here in Washington, D.C. We have two individuals by our microphones. We have the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He is the Presiding Judge at Judge Court. And we’re going to have Gene and we’re just going to use his first name. He is a graduate of the Drug Court Program here in Washington, D.C. to talk about everything drug court. And to Judge Jackson and to Gene, welcome to DC Public Safety.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Thank you for having us here.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, Judge Jackson, drug courts are immensely important throughout the United States. It is really something that’s picking up steam within the last couple years. The Washington, D.C. Superior Court was one of the first to implement drug court programs, correct?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s correct. We started our program in 1993. This is now our – going into our 22nd year of operation. We’re one of the oldest courts in the United States.

LEONARD SIPES: And you work in conjunction with our sister agency here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, Pretrial Services Agency plus a lot of other agencies, correct?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s correct. It is very much a collaborative effort on the part of all of the criminal justice agencies that operate here in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s service, obviously Pretrial Service Agency, the Criminal Defense Bar, the U.S. Marshal Service and the Department of Corrections, the D.C. Department of Corrections.

LEONARD SIPES: And for the uninitiated give a 30-second laymanesque overview as to what drug court is.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Drug court is a sanction and incentive-based program. It’s an alternative to the traditional case processing that takes place in court with criminal cases. We’re one of the few programs in the country that’s a pretrial program. Most of the drug court programs around the country are post-adjudication, that is the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty and then is given the opportunity to participate in a drug court program. In our program once a defendant is arrested and charged with an offense, if he or she qualifies for the program they’re given an opportunity to voluntarily participate in the program. Treatment services are primarily provided by the Pretrial Service Agency. If you have a qualifying misdemeanor offense, you successfully complete the program, that offense at graduation, that case at graduation is dismissed.

LEONARD SIPES: Considering how long the program has been going, you’ve literally seen, what, hundreds if not thousands of people go through drug courts since the mid-1990’s?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: For the program itself there have been thousands of people who have gone through the program.

LEONARD SIPES: Amazing.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: In the two years that I have presided over the program, we’re probably well into the hundreds. I’m not sure that I’m at a thousand yet but well into the high hundreds.

LEONARD SIPES: And the recidivism rate is pretty good, which means that literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would have continued throughout the criminal justice system stopped being involved in the criminal justice system because you provide both drug treatment through pretrial services and other partnering agencies and the sanctions process. You know, if they do well or if they screw up they see you. You are very personally involved in these cases.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I’m directly involved with each individual. In the beginning those people who come into the drug court in the first phase and there are four phases to the program, in the first two phases of the program I see them every two weeks. They have to come to court every two weeks to essentially check in with me. I get status reports on how they’re doing, whether there are problems and if there are problems we talk collectively as a team about how best to address the problem. If they need other services, if we can’t provide them, we do referrals. And if they’re doing well, of course, we acknowledge and congratulate them and we have little token gifts that we actually give as incentives for those people who are doing well.

LEONARD SIPES: And the D.C. Superior Court has really taken the lead for the country in terms of specialty courts. There’s an endless array of specialty courts within the Superior Court structure within the District of Columbia. So it’s just not drug courts, there’s family courts, there’s a lot of different courts.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s absolutely correct.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, I want to go over to Gene. Gene, you’re a graduate of the Drug Court Program and I want to get your sense as to how you felt about your participation in the process. I mean, having the presiding judge here is extremely important, but I think more people are interested in what you have to say than what I have to say or what Judge Jackson has to say. So give me your perceptions about your participation in the Drug Court Program.

GENE: Well it was almost like the last straw for me, you know. At my age at the time I caught a charge and, you know, and I had a real drug habit and I was trying to get rid of the drug habit, you know. And I was just tired out there in the street and couldn’t keep my urines clean and the caseworker, the court referred me to Drug Court and I can say that’s one of the best things that happened to me. At first I didn’t know what I was getting into by going to drug court, you know, going to these meetings and once I withdraw from the use of drugs and alcohol I felt a little comfortable in the group. Cause when I first came to groups I couldn’t even hardly talk, you know, because I was going through a lot of withdrawals. You know, but one of the things is the caseworker they understood me. A lot of the people went through the same thing that I had went through, so that was a great help to me, you know, and I looked forward to coming down here, you know, because it was so much information that was given to me. And it’s like I was on my last straw.

LEONARD SIPES: Did you have a long drug history?

GENE: Yes I did. Yes I did.

LEONARD SIPES: Did you have a long involvement within the criminal justice system?

GENE: In and out of the criminal justice system, no, I was in and out – almost like a career nuisance, you know, and all my charges was drug related.

LEONARD SIPES: Now you were involved in treatment before, correct?

GENE: Yes.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay, so what was the secret sauce with Drug Court, I mean, am I right, quickly tell me if I’m wrong, but am I right in suggesting that you did not do well within previous treatment programs and then you got to Drug Court and then you did well.

GENE: Well for one thing, what I like about Drug Court, you know, and it was surprising to me, all the staff members always say Mr. or Mrs., they call you Mr. or Mrs. You know, and they treated you like you was a human being. In the other treatment programs, not putting them down, it was like, you know, they was like trying to force things on you but here it was more like a mild case of treatment, you know. And if you had a caseworker that, you know, and I came real close to my caseworker that I can go to her and talk to her almost about anything. And, you know, and I still consider her as my caseworker today.

LEONARD SIPES: So you were able to establish a personal relationship between the treatment providers provided by pretrial services, you were able to establish that personal relationship and that helped you.

GENE: Yes, yes, cause, you know, one thing, you know, every time I’m down this way I stop in and I talk to her and still call her my caseworker and her supervisor and a lot of the other staff. You know, because I need all the support I can though, you know, I don’t say I have it made so that’s why I continue to come down here when I’m not working cause I am a productive member of society today. You know, so whenever I get a chance to come down here, you know, the graduation or just stopping in and saying, look, I’m doing okay or even, you know, even if I have a problem or situation going on with myself I have these people I can come and talk to and that’s a great thing for me, you know, cause this is one of the things I didn’t do in the past was to tell people my problems. You know, I tried to resolve them myself, but now I know if I’m down this way and I got a problem I can call them or either stop in and that’s a great thing for me.

LEONARD SIPES: Now here’s the question I have for you. Having Judge Jackson up at that bench and interacting with the Judge, was that a factor in terms of your clean participation in the program, your full participation in the program? Because I’ve talked to a lot of people about drug courts in the past 25 years by doing radio and television shows and they told me or suggested to me that having that judge sitting up there and interacting with you on a regular basis, you did not want to disappoint the judge, you did not want to go through that process. So is there something that judges bring to the table that the rest of the system cannot bring to the table that gives you that extra push to get involved in treatment and make it work?

GENE: Well Judge Jackson wasn’t my presiding judge at the time but the judge that it was, was similar to Judge Jackson, you know, they gave you some guidance. And all at the same time it’s like when you do something wrong and your mother spank you, if it’s like, you know, you get chastised and things and, you know, give you a lecture. But you really have to be at your lowest point though, you know, to really, to say, hey look, I’m going to listen to what this judge say and the rest of the staff say because I’m tired of using drugs and alcohol.

LEONARD SIPES: I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. But I’ve talked to so many people who have said to me throughout the course of my history and my career, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired yet they find themselves in the criminal justice system. What’s the secret sauce behind Drug Court? What do you think is the real key ingredient that makes Drug Court work?

GENE: For one thing, you know, I can’t say enough about the staff. The way they treat you. You know, and I only can talk about myself, you know, the relationship that I had with my caseworker. And I feel that everyone needs someone to talk to you and especially a drug abuser or alcohol, that we need someone to talk to and establish a relationship with your caseworker and then the rest of the clients, you know, you establish a relationship with them, people who are serious about recovery. And, you know, you get their phone numbers and if you have any problem you can talk to them about or, you know, mostly you bring it to groups. But it’s so unique, it’s hard to try to explain these meetings that we go to or went to because I just can’t say enough about Drug Court.

LEONARD SIPES: Your Honor, I’m going to go back to you. Now, both of us have been involved in the criminal justice system for a long time. I find the stories of Gene and other people who have been through Drug Court and specialty courts inspiring. We’ve been exposed to so much failure within the criminal justice system. It’s nice to be exposed to this amount of success. How does it affect you personally?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: Well, you can’t help but be motivated and inspired and moved by the change that occurs in people and in their lives when they successfully complete the program. During the course of the time that I’ve been on the program I’ve seen people physically change. They go from being very unhealthy to being so healthy at times that when their attorneys see them later on they don’t even recognize them. We see people who have poor relationships with their families, with their friends, now all of a sudden their family and friends are back involved in their lives again. We see people who are very talented but their talent is masked by the use of drugs and all of a sudden that talent emerges. And we have people who are poets and artists and can do – capable of doing all kinds of things and they start to do that again. We have people who haven’t worked in years, if at all, now all of a sudden they’re employed and they’re doing well and they’re being productive in the community. So the Drug Court experience is a life-changing experience and I’m just honored to be able to be a part of that and to be able to participate in helping people change and improve their lives.

LEONARD SIPES: Because, the question can go to either one of you, we’re not just talking about the individual, we’re not just talking about Gene, we’re not just talking about Judge Jackson. We’re talking about that individual’s family, that individual’s friends, whether or not he or she works, whether or not he or she is a tax burden or a tax payer, whether or not the kids are taken care of properly cause virtually everybody caught up in the criminal justice system has kids to one degree or another. So this is not just a program, this is a life-changing event in the lives of people who otherwise could go on to be not just a pain in the rear to society but possibly a danger to society and possibly a danger to their own kids. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is fundamentally a changing experience in the lives of these individuals.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s absolutely right. I routinely tell people who are before me that not only do they suffer from their addiction, but everybody around them, everyone close to them suffers from that addiction as well. And so as they get better everyone around them, the community gets better, the families get better, everyone gets better. And that’s one of the reasons why this process is so very important. The other thing that I think it’s important for people to understand is that one of the things that I think makes our program successful and probably works in other programs as well, we look at the underlying causes of the addiction. We talk and work with the individuals to identify what their triggers are. What we’ve discovered, or certainly what I’ve discovered since doing this in the last two years, that trauma and mental health play a big part in the addiction. So that as part of our program we’re not only working on people in terms of their addiction, we’re working on them to address sometimes trauma that hasn’t been diagnosed and treated forever, mental health issues that have never been diagnosed or treated. And so it’s a multifaceted process when we talk about the treatment that most of the program participants undergo.

LEONARD SIPES: I do want to get involved or explore that question a little bit more because I’ve been talking to people who have been through these sort of programs for years and they describe it as the hardest thing that they’ve ever had to do because they had to confront all those triggers that have lead them to be involved in a substance abuse issue. But we’re more than halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a program today on Drug Courts, the Superior Court Drug Court Program here in Washington, D.C. We have before our microphones the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is the presiding judge of Drug Court. And we have Gene, we’re just using his first name, he is a graduate of the Drug Court Program, again, here in Washington, DC, www.dccourts.gov, www.dccourts.gov and for our sister agency Pretrial, www.psa.gov. Those are the websites for the two agencies involved. Gene, I’m going to go over to you for that question that I asked right before the break. Is that people who are involved in substance abuse and go through the treatment process describe it as one of the scariest things they’ve ever had to encounter. People don’t understand how difficult drug treatment and mental health treatment is because you have to confront all of the things that you went through in life that triggered your addiction. Am I right or wrong?

GENE: That’s true. And the first thing, to start off, you have to be honest to yourself, that’s one thing, and be willing to talk about yourself and feel comfortable with the person who you’re talking to about yourself. Because we as drug addicts we don’t like to talk about ourselves. You know, we, I’m going to say myself, I put up a big image, you know, that everything is okay, you know, but it’s not. You know, so I found – that’s why I talk about my caseworker, how I got so close to her and this was a woman, that I became close to that me and her used to talk about everything. And when I came in I was broken down. I was broken down. I had a lot of health issues and had to miss some groups and everything but I went to her and I explained to her, look here, I got a doctor’s appointment and she said, okay, we’ll make up for this group. And, you know, she understood, you know. The way people look at me now when I came in I was a shade darker and me and her laugh at this now, when I came here I came in with my hair all knotted to my head, like I said I was a shade darker, I had a rope for my belt and I was dirty and I was stinky, but she didn’t turn her back on me. You know, so when I felt comfortable talking to this woman, you know, I got to telling her about everything.

LEONARD SIPES: But it’s the demons, I mean, how many demons did you have to face in life to get successfully through the process of completing Drug Court. I mean, all the triggers, all the different things that contributed to your substance abuse history, confronting those is a scary process.

GENE: Yes it is. Yes it is. You know, I was at my lowest point. I feel that what worked for me, you know, I was willing to do it. You know, I was the type person I used any type of drug it is. I don’t care what type of drugs it is, you say it would change my mood I would use it.

LEONARD SIPES: Right.

GENE: Because I didn’t want to deal with Gene.

LEONARD SIPES: Right.

GENE: But today, you know, I have people in my life that I can talk to, you know, so that’s really helping me to face a lot. Because it ain’t going nowhere, the same thing is out there but it’s the way I deal with it today.

LEONARD SIPES: So we’re not talking about criminal justice policy as much as we’re talking about, Your Honor, saving human beings. I mean, in decades before Drug Court Gene would have filtered in and out of the system endlessly. He would have picked up a stretch, a ten-year stretch and he would have gone off to prison and taxpayers would have had to pay that amount of money. And we can intervene in the lives of human beings through mental health treatment, through drug treatment, through other interventions and we can successfully take people who are struggling and who are either a danger or a pain in the rear to society and stop that process. We stop the revolving door. Is that right or wrong?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I think that that’s right. And I think it’s important to recognize that over the years that science has taught us that addiction is, in fact, a disease.

LEONARD SIPES: Yes.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: And for a long time we treated it as just a behavioral choice. And so the thought was well someone’s choosing to behave this way. If we tell them not to and we punish them for doing it that will encourage them or force them to change and everything will be fine. Now we understand that, in fact, it is a disease. And you have to treat the disease of addiction just as you would treat any other type of disease. And so the emphasis has shifted, we now are focused on the individual. Our treatment process is individualized. Even in court, when I hold a hearing and I have individuals in front of me, each individual is treated separately and based on their unique situation. And so, and we try to allow for that, we try to accommodate that and we try to identify what’s different about this individual and what’s different about their needs and the way the disease is impacting them and how best can we provide the treatment they need to be better.

LEONARD SIPES: But I don’t want to oversell the process at the same time, you, as the presiding judge, need to be on that bench and read more than just a couple people the riot act. Because when they turn in that drug positive or that second drug positive or that third drug positive or they don’t show up at the meetings or they show up the meetings and they don’t contribute or they show up the meetings and act as a detriment to the group process. I mean, you’ve got to sit at that bench and look at that person eyeball to eyeball and start asking that person a series of very hard questions.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: That’s exactly right. And I think it’s important that I get an opportunity to do that. One of the big differences between Drug Court and what happens in a normal criminal courtroom is there is not that interaction between the judge and the defendant. In fact, in a regular criminal courtroom the judge will not talk to the defendant. The judge talks to the defendant’s lawyer. While there’s a defense attorney there, there’s a prosecutor there, they actually say very little. I’m able to actually personally engage the defendant because we’re not talking about their case. We’re talking about what’s going on with that individual. And I think that that helps, one, it lets the individual know that I’m engaged, involved and interested and concerned about their treatment and their recovery. It also lets them know that they’re a person, they’re a human being. And Mr. Gene’s point is very important because we do want people to know that they can participate in the program, that they have dignity, we do respect them and we’re there to help them and they’re safe.

LEONARD SIPES: They’re safe but at the same time the secret sauce in so much of the success in terms of the specialty courts seems to be the judge, seems to be the judge who gets personally involved in the life of that person. And also at the same time I think judges carry a greater sense of power than those of us in the rest of the criminal justice system. Police officers can say what we want to say, pretrial folks can say it, parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, can say it, but there’s something about the judge saying it that sometimes scares the bejebees out of people and makes them take their treatment process serious. Do you agree with that?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I absolutely agree. And sometimes I have to remind individuals that I am the judge and that I have the power and the authority –

LEONARD SIPES: To send them away.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: To send them away. And it’s necessary to do that. It doesn’t actually, you’d be surprised, it doesn’t happen often, that they get it and I don’t have to remind them of it. But there are sometimes individuals, particularly in their early stages of the program who have to be reminded of the fact that this is a courtroom, I’m the judge and I do have the authority to impose significant sanctions if they don’t participate.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve just been told by other drug court graduates, not just here, but in the state of Maryland and elsewhere that it was the judge, Gene, that s was there and simply said if you don’t comply here are the consequences. You’ve had three positives, I will not accept a fourth. That seems to carry more cache, that seems to carry more weight than coming from a parole and probation agent or a pretrial supervision officer’s point of view. Having the judge say it seems to carry the word of I don’t mean to be blasphemous here, but the word of God.

GENE: That carries weight.

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah.

GENE: That carries weight when the judge says that and that is very scary. Then you have the choice to make, do I want to continue using drugs or do I want to go to jail, you know. One thing I have to say this also though, right, you get, in Drug Court, and the judge don’t always talk about jail, he’s giving you instructions towards life, what you can do to better yourself. And even the caseworkers give you the same – they’re giving you instructions, you know. It’s not so much of we’re going to lock you up though, it’s so much instruction of how you can better yourself. And that’s where pursued it, you know, and that’s what helped me because I was at my, like I said, I was at my lowest point and I was willing to change.

LEONARD SIPES: Five minutes left in the program. Your Honor or Gene, where do we take the discussion in terms of Drug Court? You know, the sense that I get is that we could, if we doubled, tripled, quadrupled the opportunity for people to be involved in Drug Court, we could substantially lower the rate of recidivism, we could lower the burden on taxpayers tremendously. The District of Columbia has had a fairly significant reduction in crime over the course of the last ten, 15, 20 years and some people have attributed that to the fine work of the metropolitan police department and other law enforcement agencies. Some people have attributed that to pretrial and court services and offender supervision agency, but I get the sense because of the specialty courts within the Superior Court that you guys can take a lot of credit for the crime reduction within Washington D.C. Am I right or wrong?

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I’d like to think that that’s true, although it is very much a collaborative effort on the part of all the different agencies that you’ve named that has resulted in, I believe, the reduction of crime in D.C. But hopefully we’re playing an important role and we think that we are. I think that it’s important that, again, we go back to the point of as the people who participate in the Drug Court Program get better, their families get better, their communities get better. Other people see them and the example that they now set in terms of the lives that they lead and they too want to get better. So it has a ripple effect on the whole of the population that is effected by the addiction that we encounter.

LEONARD SIPES: Because the average person within the criminal justice system, if you take a look at national statistics, they don’t get drug treatment, the average person caught up in the criminal justice system, the average person on parole and probation, the average person on pretrial, the average person incarcerated. I was just taking a look at data the other day is saying that the great majority of people in prison who have mental health problems do not get mental health treatment. And you provide mental health treatment as well as drug treatment.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: We do. And we look at healing the whole individual. So when you talk about addressing an individual’s addiction you have to talk about all of the things that are contributing to and impacting that addiction and very often there are health issues. We have had people who because of physical conditions were using drugs to kill the pain, dull the pain. And so we refer them for medical treatment and once they start to take better care of their health, then their need for painkillers, for the drugs, it goes away.

LEONARD SIPES: Gene, in the final minute and half of the program, what would you say to other people who are going through life and considering the Drug Court Program if they have an opportunity to be involved in the Drug Court Program, what’s your advice to them?

GENE: Give yourself a chance, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: So many people have given up. So many people say I cannot shake my addiction.

GENE: Well, you know, a lot of people would say it because they don’t want to. But, you know, one of the biggest problems, I think a lot of people revert back to drugs and alcohol is because of employment, you know, that’s one of the biggest problems.

LEONARD SIPES: Lack of employment?

GENE: Lack of employment.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay.

GENE: You know, because they figure that, you know, hey, these people is not going to hire me because of my background, but you can’t give up. I didn’t give up though and you’ll be surprised where I’m at as far as job wise today. So that’s what I would say, one of the biggest problems is employment, you know, and I’d like to say something about what Judge Jackson said. It brings your family back to you, you know, because it brought my family back. My daughters were out of my life for years and my daughters are back into my life, you know, and I wouldn’t give this up for the world, you know.

LEONARD SIPES: Judge Jackson, the final word. So for everybody listening to this they should invest in Drug Courts, that’s the bottom line.

HONORABLE GREGORY JACKSON: I would encourage the various jurisdictions that don’t have Drug Court Programs to really get serious to starting a Drug Court Program.

LEONARD SIPES: Ladies and gentleman, we’ve done a program today about Drug Courts here in the District of Columbia through the superior court. Our guests today have been the Honorable Gregory Jackson, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He is the presiding judge for Drug Court and Gene, we didn’t use Gene’s full name or last name but he’s a graduate of the Drug Court Program. To both of you, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, we appreciate your comments and we even appreciate your criticisms. And we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

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