Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stronger probation praised in drug court setting

An item in yesterday's SA Express News featured coverage of the most recent graduating class in a San Antonio drug court ("Drug court participants celebrate new sobriety," July 25):

Drug courts — intensive probation programs that focus on nonviolent offenders with addiction problems — have been in existence around the country for two decades and in Bexar County since 2001, said County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Al Alonso. In that time, he said, the programs have proved to be more effective than any other way of dealing with offenders.

“It changes lives, saves money and reduces crime,” he said. “We've got to get off the mindset that we can punish someone out of their addiction.”

I find it remarkable that drug court programs have taken off so quickly in the past few years and been embraced so enthusiastically by judges and prosecutors. What's more, the "stronger probation" techniques used to manage drug court offenders offer an important model for successfully managing other types offenders in the community.

Many parts of the drug court approach (e.g., using progressive sanctions for violators instead of automatically revoking them to prison) are replicable in more traditional courts or can be applied to other common subsets of defendants with specialized needs. For example, in El Paso County, CO (Colorado Springs) they've established a specialty court to provide stronger probation for returning veterans who run afoul of the law, recognizing that these defendants face particularized circumstances that weren't being addressed by the court system.

At the end of the day, such tailored approaches improve public safety by focusing on helping offenders succeed on probation instead of encouraging them to fail. True, many defendants assigned to such specialty courts don't make it; but for those who do drug courts reduce costs for taxpayers and increase the likelihood they won't commit more crimes in the future.


Anonymous said...

Nice comment by the judge, "..can punish them out of their addition.."

You think he gets it, or is he just lucky at his guess? We'll see how his county thinks the idea is holding up when it come election time. I for one hope the judge continues his more open thought process

Anonymous said...

It's not "stronger probation," it's smarter probation and more discretionary probation.

Probation already involves a multitude of conditions and requirements often unrelated to actual crimes-- no alcohol, no travel (even to some nearby counties), must sleep at your own house, no entering bars, curfews, no owning sharp objects, even when none of these are related to your crime-- and since there is not enough flexibility and discretion given to POs and judges,people get probations revoked for minor infractions completely unrelated to their original crime.

"Stronger probation" in and of itself will simply mean more probation violations and will place probationers under increased fear that even breathing wrong will send them to jail.

The mindset that "stronger probation" is a good thing is what led to the creation of drug courts in the first place-- addicts kept violating probation/parole and getting sent back to jail because probation is so goddamn rigid already. We need smarter probation.

Anonymous said...

Drug Courts since 2001. How many defendants in those courts had to account for the false positives coming out of Treatment Associates? Probation's duty is two-fold 1) Community Safety and 2) Rehabilitation. How can that be accomplished when there is no trust? Who is going to hold the department accountable for continued services provided by Treatment Associates. The Community and defendants are all short changed and placed in jeapordy.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if i'm wrong but aren't drug courts voluntary and offered as compromise to prison? Many times it's just another systematic delay to keep them from prison. Because it's voluntary, it stands to reason that the program will have a high success rate. But why is the program successful? Is it because the offender wants to change his behavior and live a sober and productive life, or is it because he doesn't want to go to prison? It seems to me that both would apply and are equally effective, but it is my opinion that the fear of consequence is more of a motivating factor than a good conscience. The offender dictates which is more effective, not the system.

Anonymous said...

Well said. These drug courts are a joke. Drug use is a crime, not a disease, and druggies put other citizens at risk. They become addicted because they repeatedly choose to use before becoming addicted. The drug courts only have better success rates because "clients" choosing to "change" their lives are the ones admitted, and the slack is left behind to other dockets. I have no problem paying the extra jailing expenses in the form of taxes (it is small relative to my education bill, very, very small). There is no klepto court for thieves, no sex offender court for sex offenders, so why should there be a drug court for druggies - they all suffer from mental problems, just different kinds.

Anonymous said...

drug courts are a joke you who wrote this are iggnorant i have been in drug court for a year and i dont have mental problems i have changed my life in everyway i at one time had nothing to live for and facing 20 years in prison now im sober working front desk at a very nice inn so do some research before you try to act like you know so much about something you were blessed to never have to go through!