Why did you choose to enter drug court?
In Brooklyn, like the other focus group sites, most participants indicated
that they chose treatment court to avoid going to jail or prison.
- Its a lot better than doing 17 years.
- I would have been still upstateto do 10 years and still the
mark would be on your slate. . . . I did 2 years and no marks on meI
would never do the 10 years. And when the judge asked me in that court.
. . .
- Too many times a gun pointed at my head, cops come with guns and stick
it to my head . . . do this, do that. . . . I was in criminal court
so many times. The judge asked me if I was ready to take control of
my life. . . . I didnt. I went and got high. They came looking
for me. Hauled me back. She asked me if I was ready, sent me to [Brooklyn
Treatment Court]. She told me I was going to do time at Rikers. Whichever
I wanted. I chose this way.
- I see a lot of people come here just so they dont have no jail
time, just to beat your jail time. But you cant cause youre
not gonna get nowhere.
- Came to Brooklyn Treatment Court not to stop getting high, just didnt
want to go to jail.
- I got caught selling in the building and they brought me here to the
Brooklyn Treatment Court and I didnt want to do it but I had no
choice. I mean, I had a choice . . . jail or the program. So I took
- I use and abuse, I sold and stole. And that been my last go round.
I attempted to make some fast money and I was gonna do something different,
maybe, plans changed. During my transaction I was being videotaped by
the police. . . . [The regular criminal court] sent me to an outpatient
program which I thought was a joke . . . cause they sold drugs
across the street. I messed up, spent more time here in the Brooklyn
House. Woke me up. I started realizing that this is my life. . . . So
when he came and offered me the program, I said, Yeah, Im
down for it.
At least one participant said that concerns for his family motivated
him to enter the drug court:
- I sold it, I smoke it, just to keep my habit up. I got caught with
drugs by an undercover cop . . . so it was either go to jail or come
here. I was raising my daughter, so I had a choice to make. Keep my
family or otherwise lose everything.
Las Vegas focus group participants also believed that most of their peers
enter the program to avoid the negative consequences of being found guilty
through the regular court process, which include records of convictions,
incarceration, and family consequences:
- Yes. I have a felony on me. I think that may be true to begin with
because of course nobody wants to go to jail, so they chose drug court.
And I think that . . . sometimes they come with that attitude but they
dont leave with that attitude, and you do learn here and you do
sometimes feel good about yourself when you are clean.
- The felony would stick to my record, you know, whereas Im doing
it like this, you know. This is the only thing on my record, period.
No traffic ticket or anything, just this. You know, if I get finished
with this then, you know, the felony is off my record. . . . If you
dont want anything else in your life, it cool, but its a
lot you cannot do with a felony. Theres a lot you cant do.
- Ive done a year in prison up in Carson City and my family couldnt
come to visit me. . . . Down here in this program, I can go to the movies,
I can go bowling, I can do other things. Its much better even
though its inconvenient. Its a good inconvenience.
- No way. Some people are like that because they dont have a family
lifestyle. Theyre used to living in the street. They dont
have nobody to look forward to, like me I got kids, I got children,
you know. I got somebody to live for, like, a daughter. Shes 16
years old and a little boy thats 6 years old.
- Or your kids being taken away. See a lot of people are under the Child
Protective Services. Yeah, . . . one dirty there and you lose your kids.
- Men and women. Losing your children. Losing your family is another
- Im a divorced parent and if I was to be taken to court for child
custody, I would lose my kids, if I had a felony on my record . . .
if I had a chance to have it dismissed, and it gives you a fresh start.
Miami drug court participants expressed similar views about avoiding
- Scary for me because I dont want to go to jail. I was there
for about 12 hours and I dont want to go back to that place.
- It was my choice to go to drug court cause they had gave me
time served for the charge. I told them I had a problem being by myself,
so I decide to go to drug court and also keep my record clean. . . .
Thats why Im here.
- When I got arrested I was given the option . . . that I could just
go to jail and I wouldnt have to worry about it . . . but after
being in the program, it was wiser, more positive, for me being in the
program than just to go to jail and get out with nothing new. . . .
- Cause I didnt want to take the chance on the case. .
. . I didnt think I could beat it. . . . I didnt want to
take that risk.
- It was an option for me. Yeah, the judge, he say, you can either put
up my arm, come back, make a court date for you, and they might let
you go, he said, but I would suggest the program for you. Then he explain
how it work. I said how long I have to be in the program. He said 1
year. So I said okay Ill go in the program and thats why
- I took it because at first they wanted me to go to a stay-in program,
yknow, in-house, and I didnt want that . . . just like being
locked up in jail, so Id really deal with it outpatient.
- And I never been locked up in my life and I dont want this record
so thats why Im going through this program; to help me clear
my record because I never had a record before.
Portland focus group participants said that most of their peers were
in treatment to get clean. However, in discussion, other incentives
appeared to play powerful roles in motivating them to want to stick through
treatment. The practically unanimous motivation was to avoid jail:
- Everybody [is here to avoid jail].
- If you dont stay on the programs, then it goes back to the court
systems and then youre from square one again.
- I think this is easier than being on probation because I feel on probation
there is time when they can just send you to jail, and Ive got
kids to take care of.
Portland participants believed that another powerful motivation had to
do with participants desire to maintain contact with or custody
of their children:
- A good majority are worried about keeping their children.
- I would say a third of the people I run across.
- My kids dont live with me, but the point is if I had a felony
on my record and my ex found out, it would be hell to pay seeing my
kids. She would run with that.
In San Bernardino, focus group participants clearly recognized the motivation
to avoid jail, but also stressed family reasons for entering drug court:
- I took drug court to get out.
- The judge gives you the option. Do you want to go to my drug court,
or do you want to go to prison? A lot of them take this as the easy
way out so they can get back on the street, but like you said, its
all a front, and then when they get done with the court, this system,
they go right back out to the street.
- When I first came here . . . the only reason I came was to stay out
- Well, this was my last resort. They told me I was going to prison.
But Im glad I did this.
- It was harder for me being in jail the 9 days [after my arrest] than
it was the 9 months Ive been here. Because I talked to my daughter
every night I was in jail and she cried. That was the worst, thats
been the worst time since I been arrested, those 9 days that she cried.
- I had just had a son 2 months before and I chose this cause
I didnt want to go to jail and miss that; it took a month or so
and then I realized that I did have a problem.
- I needed to get back home to be with my grandchildren.
- Because Im on the verge of losing my wife; she threw me the
divorce papers and everything else.
Motivations among Seattle participants were similar:
- Well, see, I was already cleanit was a charge that came up
a year later so I justjust took it to stay out of jail.
- To avoid prison.
- Had to. I just had to. I took it as a saving gracethe methadone.
I was going to get methadone but the procedure to get methadone is a
pain in the a**. . . . If I couldve found some legal way to get
methadone, I would have done it years ago. Its been wonderfulit
allows me a life. So I took it for that reason.
- They were offering me 60 days and I didnt want it, so . . .
to avoid jail.
- Mine was to get out of prison. I was gonna be doin another 2
or 3 years in prison if I didnt take drug court. . . .
- Avoid the felony was a major enticement and a challenge.
Some Seattle participants entered the drug court because they needed
treatment; for some, free methadone treatment in particular:
- To save my life.
- To stay alive. To live longer.
- Life. I was dead.
- I made the decision so I had a chance for me and my old lady, cause
me and my girlfriend got busted together and we had a chance to get
on the same program togetheryou know, to get on a methadone program
and do this together, and I think the reason I did it was cause
I wanted us to stay together.
- I was just tired of hustling, you know. Cause heroin doesnt
give you any days off. You got to get up in the morning and get $20
or $30 to get your fix so I was just tired of working for it.
- Free methadone.
More than one mentioned ties to family as the reason for choosing drug
- love my children more than anything else in this world, thats
Back to Participant Histories
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts