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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Drug Courts in Washington, D.C. “DC Public Safety”

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From our nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to talk about drug courts. Drug courts seem to have a pretty impressive research history from the U.S. Department of Justice and other sources essentially stating that people involved in the drug court process do well, better than the people who do not go to drug court, people involved in substance abuse, they go to drug court, they interact with the judge, they interact with supervision staff, and generally speaking, the outcomes are positive. To talk about the program that we have here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have two principals with us today. Carline Claudomir and Amanda Rocha, they’re both community supervision officers assigned to our drug court, but before we get into the program, our usual commercial, we are up to 220,000 requests for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. If you need to get in touch with us, and we really appreciate all of the emails, we really appreciate all of the comments in the comment line, and whether it’s criticisms, or whether it’s platitudes, we embrace whatever it is that you have to say to us, and we take it very seriously, and we appreciate all the suggestions in terms of future programs, you can get in touch with me directly via email: Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov, or you can follow us via twitter at twitter.com/lensipes or you can go to the site itself, www.csosa.gov and look for the radio and television programs, or you can go to media.csosa.gov directly and take a look at these programs and comment through the comment line and back to our guests, Carline Claudomir and Amanda Rocha, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carline Claudomir: Hi, Len.

Amanda Rocha: Hi, Len.

Len Sipes: All right, Carline. How many times did I butcher that first name? And last name? Carline Claudomir!

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. And I know I’m going to get the emails saying, Leonard, you can not pronounce names correctly! Amanda, you’ve been before our microphones before, correct?

Amanda Rocha: I have, Len.

Len Sipes: You’ve done some other stuff for us.

Amanda Rocha: Yes, I have.

Len Sipes: All right, so you’re star of stage and screen.

Amanda Rocha: Oh, no!

Len Sipes: And you’re very used to the microphone process. Drug courts. You know, ladies, the research on drug courts is positive, Carline, and the first question’s going to go to you. The research is positive. Drug courts do seem to work. Individuals going into the drug court process do seem to do fairly well. The whole idea behind, or the history of drug courts, for the audience, was to try to provide an alternative to incarceration, and an alternative to doing nothing. If you take a look at national research, out of all of the offenders caught up in the criminal justice system, 11% get drug treatment.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Now, the overwhelming majority of people caught up in the criminal justice system do not get drug treatment. That’s amazing to me. That’s amazing to me, considering all the social ills that are out there. But here, what we do is provide drug treatment, and in some cases, we simply provide supervision services. We do whatever is necessary to stabilize that person with a substance abuse history, correct?

Carline Claudomir: You’re correct.

Len Sipes: All right, tell me about it.

Carline Claudomir: My name is Carline Claudomir, and I work with the STAR/HIDTA team. STAR/HIDTA stands for Sanction Team for Addiction Recovery. Our program entails the clients being assigned by either their judge and their attorney, or coming through transfer from other teams at CSOSA, or through our pre-trial drug program. Once they come to STAR/HIDTA, they are signing a contract stating that there are a number of things that they will and will not do while on probation, and they understand that there’s immediate consequences for any positive drug test or noncompliant behavior.

Len Sipes: Okay, so if they screw up, there are immediate consequences –

Carline Claudomir: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: – and that’s what seems to work, correctly?

Carline Claudomir: Yes, it’s the blessing and the curse for some of the clients.

Len Sipes: Because we need to understand that people with substance abuse histories, shall I say, always screw up. Recovery, problems are part of the recovery process, so it’s not, go to drug court and never do drugs again. It’s go to drug court and work with that person as that person faces their addiction history and relearns how to live life without drugs.

Carline Claudomir: Yes, and a lot of times, when they come to us, they sit, stand up in court before the judge and say, Your Honor, yes, I want to do probation, Your Honor, yes, I want treatment, then they come to the office, and then they reread the contract and realize it’s not only treatment!

Len Sipes: Oh, my heavens! What have I gotten myself involved in?

Carline Claudomir: Yes, it’s treatment and sanctions, so if you continue to use drugs, unfortunately, there are jail sanctions involved, which are treatment, tough love all the way.

Len Sipes: You’re tough love all the way, but that’s what is necessary. Amanda Rocha, in terms of that sense of tough love, correct?

Amanda Rocha: Yes, absolutely. It really does help to have that median sanctioning, because it puts a little fear in the offenders so that they don’t go back and use, it gives them that second thought before deciding to use, oh, that’s three nights in jail if I go ahead and do that, or oh, you know what? I’m on my fourth sanction or fifth sanction, and now it’s seven nights in jail. So they don’t want to continue going back and forth. It gets old for them to have to do that, and so kind of helps them along the way a little bit.

Len Sipes: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand just that, because, you know, this whole concept of treatment, the research is pretty clear that the reason why most people don’t get drug treatment is not its availability or lack of availability. The principal reason for why people don’t get drug treatment is that they don’t feel they need drug treatment, and in many cases, in terms of the criminal justice system, we basically coerce them into a) getting drug treatment, b) sticking with it because of the sanctions along the way. If you have a positive urine, we don’t care if it’s for marijuana, we don’t care what it’s for. If you have a positive urine, this is what’s going to happen to you, and those punishments, if you will, are going to increase as you continue your substance abuse, correct?

Carline Claudomir: It’s the accountability factor, and a lot of times, they come to us never having to be held accountable for their drug use, never had to be held accountable for their actions, and when they come to us, they realize every time they mess up, there is no passes, there are no passes, so immediately, you go see the judge, and you can explain to the judge why you felt it was okay to make this decision, regardless of the consequences.

Len Sipes: You know, the interesting thing is that there’s an increasing number of research programs out there, studies that, interestingly enough, it’s the judge who seems to be at the centerpoint of a lot of these mental health courts, substance abuse courts, reentry courts, there’s something magical about the judge being involved in this process, I think.

Carline Claudomir: It’s the authority, because if I say he needs treatment and the judge says he needs treatment, that holds a lot of weight. You don’t want to go to a judge and say, no, he doesn’t need treatment. No, it doesn’t work that way. The judge says he needs it, then you’re going to listen, because they’re in the midst of the battle.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now it’s extraordinarily confusing for the people of this audience, because it goes way beyond Washington D.C. 20% of our audience is international, and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area is not our top city in terms of people listening to this program. So we have to explain that under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, administratively, we have an entity called pre-trial services who are their own independent agency with their own board and their own mission, but they fall under the generic auspices of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, both are federalized, and they also have a drug court program focusing on pretrial individuals, correct?

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, and I know you can’t speak for them, but in essence, the gig is that the person goes before a judge, and if he completes, or she completes the provisions of the drug court program, the charges are dropped.

Carline Claudomir: It has an affect on the charges or what is actually ending sentencing.

Len Sipes: All right, there you go. It has an effect. You should be a public affairs officer. But ours, what we’re talking about is post-conviction. We’re talking about probationers.

Amanda Rocha: Yes.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay, and the probationers, we’re talking about, the incentive here is early termination, it’s where the judge or the attorney feels that this person has a substance abuse background, not necessarily currently doing drugs, but having a substance abuse background, and this person may not be new to the criminal justice system. This person may have multiple arrests and multiple contacts with the criminal justice system, correct?

Amanda Rocha: That is correct. We have people who are 18-years-old up until, well into their 60s, so yeah, it could be somebody who is their first charge, or it could be somebody who’s, it’s their 20th.

Len Sipes: Right, and that part, by the way, the process in terms of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and older. I’ve had a chance to encounter them, in terms of the write-alongs that I’ve done with our folks, and that’s sad, don’t you think? I mean, when you walk into this apartment of this guy who’s been through heroin, who’s been through crack, I mean, these older heroin addicts, these older coke guys, you know, they just have the hardest time staying away from drugs. It’s just amazing to me to go into the home of a 50-year-old and 60-year-old because they continue to do drugs.

Carline Claudomir: Can I go back to the incentive process?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Carline Claudomir: I always hear the biggest incentives for our program is the fact that you can come off of drugs, and you can be successful in the community without using illicit substances. We actually have a client right now, he is part of the TAP program, but we also see some of those clients sometimes, and he’s working, he’s successful, he’s drug free. That is the biggest incentive. Most of our clients, however, see early termination, and that’s their goal, and they don’t actually think of, to get there, I have to also be drug free.

Len Sipes: Here’s my guess, and either one of you, feel free to tell me whether I’m right or wrong. My guess is that they think that they’re entering this program, and the early termination is the only thing that’s on their mind, and getting off of drugs is way, way, way, way, way back on the list of –

Carline Claudomir: – priorities.

Len Sipes: Yeah, priorities, because a lot of people, they’ve done drugs the good part of their lives. You know, 12, 13 years old, starting alcohol, 14, 15, starting marijuana, 16, 17, graduating to the harder drugs, a lot of these individuals that we supervise here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and this applies to any parole and probation agency in the country. You know, they work with people who don’t know how to live life without self-medication.

Carline Claudomir: And unfortunately, in their minds, they believe it’s recreational, even though they have a 20-year history of drug abuse and treatment situations, they still believe it’s recreational, I can stop at any point in time.

Len Sipes: I can handle this.

Carline Claudomir: And unfortunately, when they get in front of, into the STAR/HIDTA program, and there’s consequences, and they realize, well I’m just going to jail because I can’t stop using, is that really worth it? And that’s when it may click in their mind, okay, I really do, I have a problem. I can’t do this on my own.

Len Sipes: We, we have this come to reality be, again, I’ve used other terms, but I don’t want to be disrespectful. Where that becomes a defining moment in their lives, does it not, that they have lived their life with the needle, lived their life with a powdery substance, lived their life smoking reefer, they really don’t know what to do without drugs.

Amanda Rocha: And I think, for example, we have somebody assigned to us right now. Her grandmother had a history, apparently she’s not using now, but of use. Her mother is actively using, and she’s a young girl, 19 years old, and is using, so that, not only has she been using for a good amount of her short life that she has had so far, but she also has been living with this substance abuse through her generations.

Len Sipes: Right. I guess that’s the point that I’m trying to get across to the audience, because we have this extraordinarily simplistic sense as to the problem that we have with people, the 16,000 people that we supervise on any given day, and most of the people in the audience that I talk to understand that out of the 7 million people under correctional supervision, 5 of those 7 million are on community supervision. So when we talk about corrections in this country, the overwhelming majority of these individuals are in the community being supervised in the community. The overwhelming majority of these individuals have substance abuse histories. The overwhelming majority of these individuals just don’t smoke a joint every couple weeks. That investment in drugs is a long term early age of onset life altering experience, but they don’t know how to have a life without drugs. So every time the boss gets in their face, they smoke a joint. Every time life takes a turn, the needle goes in their arm. That’s who they are, that’s what they are in terms of their own self definition. Now am I exaggerating, or am I in the ballpark?

Carline Claudomir: No, even when they’re successful, the way they celebrate is by using drugs!

Len Sipes: That’s right! They reward themselves. We had a case one time when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety. The guy comes out of prison, reunited with his family, he’s going to drug treatment, he’s working, he’s getting along with the kids, and he’s doing so well, that what he does is fire up a joint to celebrate! And he kept pulling positives for marijuana! First positive, second positive, third, fourth, fifth, sixth. Now there’s a certain point where we’re sitting down and saying, my man, you’re very close to going back to prison, and your wife let you come home, and the kids, you’re getting along with the kids, and you’re working every single day, and you’re going to drug treatment, and the drug treatment folks say that you’re progressing, and you’re within a hair’s breadth of going back to the prison system! What’s up with you?

Carline Claudomir: Well I have clients like that right now in my caseload. I had a client who, by some confusion, believed that her termination date was a month earlier, and so when I called her in, I said, I need you to come in and drug test, because I’m sorry, you actually terminate in May instead of April, and that drug test was positive for marijuana, and her explanation was, I thought I was off of probation! But she had not tested positive in close to 7 months!

Len Sipes: But that’s not the point!

Carline Claudomir: It’s not the point!

Len Sipes: So you, the criminal justice system, in essence, in these drug courts or other modalities that we have here at CSOSA, when we involve people in long term residential group substance abuse, that is, for the first time in their lives many of these individuals come face to face with the prospect of never using drugs again, and facing the prospect as to why they use drugs to begin with. That is a pretty scary place to be, is it not?

Amanda Rocha: I would think so, yeah. Some of the offenders have already had drug treatment, though, and this is their second time coming around, because like you were saying, it is a scary thought, so maybe that first time they weren’t open to it. They didn’t really reap the full benefits of receiving that treatment, so here they are, back in the criminal justice system, and we’re giving them another chance, and we’re hoping that this time, they are receptive, and they do keep that open mind, and they aren’t so put off by the whole idea of addressing that issue.

Len Sipes: We’re halfway through the program, ladies and gentlemen. This is DC Public Safety today. We’re talking about drug courts. We have two principals with us. We have Carline, let’s see if I can actually pronounce Carline’s last name correctly, Claudomir, and Amanda Rocha, both community supervision officers with drug court. Again, there are two drug courts in the District of Columbia, ours under the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is post-adjudication, which means the person’s on probation, and we also have one on the pretrial side of it, and the whole idea is, when the judge or the attorney takes a look at this individual’s background, they say that this person’s involvement in criminal activity is principally due to substance abuse, and that person may not be new to the criminal justice system. This may be the person’s fifth, sixth, seventh, twelfth time, but he has a substance abuse history, she has a substance abuse history, and what we try to do is to get them involved in treatment, but the interesting part of it is that treatment may not be the first stop, correct? We have other, we assess the individual –

Carline Claudomir: When they come in to this, the HIDTA drug program, initially, some clients actually are [INDISCERNIBLE] from either the pretrial or from a request from their judge. A lot of our clients come in, and we assess their drug, their current drug test to see, what level they would actually go into. Some clients come in and never drug test positive, and they had dealt with their issues prior to coming to –

Len Sipes: Or they make the voluntary decision to stop as long as they’re under supervision. So the interesting part, this was the point I was trying to get to, and both of you were looking at me, so why did I, the interesting part of it is research years ago that basically said offenders take vacations from their drug use all the time. There’s a certain point where even the person involved in substance abuse will say, I’m doing it too much. I need my wife or my significant other, or for whatever reason, I’m going to be drug tested, I’ve got to stop for the next 3 or 4 months, and then oftentimes, the person goes right back to it. So this sense of an uncontrollable craving for drugs, that craving is always there, but the person can stop for a certain amount of time.

Carline Claudomir: It depends on the person, but yes, sometimes we do have clients who may have tested positive three or four times at the very beginning, and we never, and then complete their whole probation with no, with no positive drug tests, but then we’ll see them later on in court, and they got another charge, and they tested positive at some other point after they leave the STAR/HIDTA program.

Len Sipes: So with the criminal justice system has the wherewithal, and mothers have the wherewithal, and pardon my sexism, wives have the wherewithal, and in the case of women offenders, husbands have the wherewithal, people who have a certain amount of power regarding the offender, have the ability to get that offender to stop doing drugs, at least for a certain amount of time.

Carline Claudomir: Specifically when the consequences is jail time. A lot of our clients, after they sit, do their first sanction which is a jury box sanction for three days, and they see the judge stepping back, client after client after client for a positive drug test for three nights or seven nights or 14 nights or 28 nights, they look at that and say, oh, I’m not going to do 28 nights for a positive marijuana. I can stop for –

Len Sipes: That’s the point, isn’t it?

Carline Claudomir: Yeah.

Len Sipes: Isn’t that the point? I mean, it’s like we have these endless debates about substance abuse and what works and what doesn’t work. Well, holding a 28 day setback, as we refer to it, of spending 28 days in jail for smoking a joint seems to be an awfully heavy price to pay, and a lot of these individuals under our supervision consciously make the choice not to continue to smoke marijuana because they simply don’t want to spend 28 days in jail, correct?

Carline Claudomir: Correct, but the flipside is those who actually are in the grips of their addiction, no matter how many sanctions you provide, they’re not going to stop.

Len Sipes: They’re not going to stop.

Carline Claudomir: And those are the ones we really try to focus on and really try to get them out of the community immediately, because every time they pick up, they’re, one, they’re breaking the law, and they’re violating their probation contract, and they’re violating probation, and they’re hurting themselves, and they may become a threat to the community, so we try to get them out of the community as fast as we can through treatment.

Len Sipes: All right, and then some cases, through residential treatment.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So let’s walk through those steps, those sanction steps, because we have, sitting in the jury box for three days, which is a real pain.

Carline Claudomir: First violation.

Len Sipes: Okay. Second violation –

Carline Claudomir: – is going to be 30 days on GPS with [INDISCERNIBLE] conference.

Len Sipes: So 30 days being tracked electronically through global positioning system satellite tracking, so wherever you go, you’re tracked.

Carline Claudomir: With a curfew.

Len Sipes: With a curfew.

Carline Claudomir: And sometimes, a stayaway. You can’t go to the neighborhood where you usually get your drugs from.

Len Sipes: There you go.

Carline Claudomir: If you do, we know where you are.

Len Sipes: There you go. So he’s being watched all the time. Okay, so that’s pretty cool. Now the next sanction after that?

Carline Claudomir: Third sanction is three nights in jail.

Len Sipes: Three nights in jail. In the D.C. jail.

Carline Claudomir: D.C. jail.

Len Sipes: Well that’s a lovely place to visit! Is it on the weekend, during the week?

Carline Claudomir: It’s whenever they get their sanction.

Len Sipes: It’s whenever they get their sanction.

Carline Claudomir: It starts immediately.

Len Sipes: Okay. Fourth?

Amanda Rocha: It would be a case staffing. So Ms. Claudomir and I, or our supervisor or other team members get together and discuss this individual’s case to see what we can do at this point, because in the past, what has been going on isn’t working. So a plan, in a sense.

Len Sipes: Is that, is that where you give your riot act pronouncement to the individual, basically saying, hey, you’re this far from going into prison?

Carline Claudomir: They’ve been getting it the whole time! And we tell our clients when they come in, if we get to the case staffing stage, please understand you’re leaving the community and going to treatment. There is no if, but, can I, can I get one more chance? No, your chance was when you stood in front of the judge and said you would be clean and sober.

Len Sipes: And there’s a certain point where we will send them away to residential treatment.

Carline Claudomir: That’s the case staffing stage.

Len Sipes: That’s the case staffing stage. Okay, after that, what happens?

Amanda Rocha: Then we have the seven nights in jail sanction.

Len Sipes: Okay, and then it just basically goes from 7 nights to 14 nights to an entire month sort of thing.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right, and if somebody gets placed in residential treatment and gets discharged unsuccessfully or voluntarily chooses to leave, then that would be 15 nights in jail.

Len Sipes: The average person listening to this program, people within the criminal justice system are going to say, eh, that’s pretty much common business, drug positives and sanctions. The average person outside of the criminal justice system listening to this program would be appalled. They’re going, how many positives, how many bites at the apple are you giving this guy? You’re telling me that he’s got 15 prior contacts with the criminal justice system, and now we’re up to our fifth and sixth drug positive? For the love of good god, put that person in prison! Obviously, that person doesn’t want to comply. Obviously, that person is posing a public safety risk. Just put him back in prison.

Carline Claudomir: But see, you look at the context of the situation, the average individual on probation actually provides a number more of positive drug tests are a lot more noncompliant. We get them immediately, after the first, second, third, fourth, fifth. So in the context of probation, sometimes a client won’t be able to go before the sentencing judge until the 20th plus drug test because we can’t get a show cause until then to tell the judge he is noncompliant with probation.

Len Sipes: Okay, but that’s a technicality, and I’m glad you brought that up, but the principal issue here for the average citizen is, you know, are, the people that we have under supervision are not exactly the most popular people on the face of the earth.

Carline Claudomir: No, but they are your neighbors.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. But my, the other point is that, you know, when we go out, the citizens asking them to support, whether it’s mental health programs or substance abuse programs or educational programs or vocational programs, the response oftentimes is, Leonard, we’re going to give to the church, we’re going to give to the schools, let the money go to the kids, let the money go to the elderly, I’m really not all that enthused about giving criminals. Money for programs, so the point is, is that there’s a frustration level and a tolerance level on the part of the average citizen as to how many chances we’re going to give that individual from the standpoint of public safety, and we need to explain why we do that.

Carline Claudomir: Public safety is our number one concern, so we always talk to our clients in regards from the aspect. When you become a threat to public safety –

Len Sipes: Boom, you go.

Carline Claudomir: – you need to leave the community.

Len Sipes: That’s right.

Carline Claudomir: But up until that point, we have to work with you, because once you leave probation, you’re done with this. You go back into that same community, because you don’t walk around with a sign saying, I am a criminal. You walk around into those churches, into those schools, pick up your children, those same places that the public wants to provide their money, those clients are there with them.

Len Sipes: 1 out of 45 individuals, according to national research are on probation right now or community supervision. Now, if you can, these are active. So if you count people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, it’s at least 1 out of 20. So every time, regardless of where you go, where you shop, those, you’re going to encounter hundreds of individuals who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. So I think the rationale is, is that we want them to quit drugs, we want them to become taxpayers, not tax burdens, we want them to stop criminality, and I think that’s what we try to do with these individuals in drug court.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right. We want them to make that lifestyle change, so they’re not back in and out of the system.

Len Sipes: We want them to toss off substance abuse for good.

Amanda Rocha: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And stop messing with us.

Carline Claudomir: The problem is, sometimes it doesn’t happen in one try. I have sat in drug court and did my cases in drug court and have turned to the left, and looked into the jury box and saw a client I had a year ago who got off on early termination who is now back on pre-trial.

Len Sipes: That’s exactly right. And it is the process of recovery, and when we do live talk radio, people have a hard time listening to this, because their sense of the criminal justice system is, you’re getting a break, buddy, and maybe one, maybe two, but you hit three, and I want you to go back to prison. I think the average person in the larger community, not in the criminal justice system, feels that way. So we have to be accountable to the average citizen and explain to them that recovery, in terms of substance abuse, is a messy process that takes, in many cases, two, three times at treatment, and in many cases, involves multiple positives for drugs until we can convince that person to stay away from drugs, at least for the period of their supervision, or go to jail.

Carline Claudomir: I have a client who has been on probation since 1995, and he has been through every team at CSOSA, and when he finally made it to STAR/HIDTA, and he started messing up, and we did the warrant initiatives and went into his home and arrested him, and we brought him in front of his judge, the judge said, no, we’re going to give him one more chance, and that is it. One more chance. And it just continues on. But I will say that after this last opportunity, he has been clean and sober for 7-8 months, is working full time, and now, he is back, part of society. But see, it didn’t work the first, second, third, 10th, 15th time.

Len Sipes: You know, the interesting part of this is that the average person hearing it has a low frustration level for people caught up in the criminal justice system, but that is our reality. Our reality is that we have individuals who don’t know how to live life without a needle. They don’t know how to live life without a hallucinogen. They don’t know how to do it, and what we do is we teach them how to live life without using drugs, and that created a much safer society, a much saner society in the long run, and we turn people who are tax burdens into taxpayers, and I think that’s the heart and soul of it. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, sometimes it’s hard to explain to the general public, but we take individuals who are problems and we turn out individuals who are no longer problems, and we do that more often than we don’t, correct?

Carline Claudomir: And sometimes we’re the only ones who hold up that mirror to that individual and make them see how sloppy and messy they are, and they have been living their life, and hold them accountable, and when they think they’re almost done, hold them accountable even more and make them be the successes that they say they want to be when they first came to probation.

Len Sipes: It’s a fascinating process. Most of the people that I’ve encountered after a certain point, especially the older guys, sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are. I mean, it is just a terrible process of being arrested and rearrested and rearrested and reincarcerated and reincarcerated. These aren’t necessarily violent criminals. Most of these people are involved in nonviolent crimes, but there’s a certain point where they just get sick and tired of being constantly put through the criminal justice system, and they finally quit. They finally make that break. So I think what you’re doing is intervening in that process earlier, if at all humanly possible to get them to that point where they understand that they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, correct?

Amanda Rocha: Well, and also, think about the example that I gave before where this young adult has this generational, you know, substance abuse that she’s been around, and those people who have dropped out of school in the sixth grade, or who have all these different issues, and they’re using to kind of, you know, make themselves feel better about the issue, or they’re trying to fit in with their peers, or with their family. So you have all these issues that are going on, and part of probation’s job is to address those issues, get them into an employment training program, get their GED, so now that they have these positive things in their life that they didn’t have before that would help them to stop using or even wanting to go back and use.

Len Sipes: Or put them back in jail or prison, and either one protects public safety.

Carline Claudomir: Yes.

Len Sipes: That’s the bottom line. All right, ladies and gentlemen, we’re out of time. Carline Claudomir, and I said it for the first time correctly, community supervision officer with our drug court unit. Amanda Rocha, also a community supervision officer with our drug court unit. You can find information about CSOSA at www.csosa.gov. You can also access the radio, television shows, the blog, and transcripts through the CSOSA website, or directly through www.media – M-E-D-I-A – dot-csosa – C-S-O-S-A – dot-gov. You can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes, and you can also email me directly, Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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