What do you think the purpose of drug court is?
Brooklyn Treatment Court participants offered what turned out to be fairly
common explanations of what they understood as the purpose of the drug
court, basically seeing the drug court as an opportunity or another chance:
- Brooklyn Treatment Program is there to help you get on with your
life and try to get yourself together. . . . So they say, well listen,
I give you another chance. Im gonna send you to detox. It was
on me to get high when I walked out. Then they gave me another chanceto
go into a residentialso they really didnt do anything bad
to anybodythey really just try to help you be a human being, a
successful person in society, to do what you had to to do. If you didnt
come back to treatment court, you was going to go to jail and experience
Rikers Island to see if you like that. So I dont really have anything
bad to say. . . .
- Well, I think the purpose of it to me . . . is that they tell you,
its like, they gonna give you an opportunity to live or die. Its
just as simple as that to me. Its either you want to live or youre
gonna die. And they give you all the ways to see either youre
gonna live or youre gonna die. Thats it.
- This is just to help people get on the right track.
- I believe the purpose of the court is to help the community, cause
Im an individual in that community. . . . They dont see
us a bad people; they see us as good people doing bad things and theyre
just trying to help the individual so they can grow. . . . It helps
the community itself; and we all try to help each other.
- I was just going through the motions. I didnt even know how
to stop. I couldnt stop even if I wanted to stop. I was just like
on automatic pilot. Up, smoke, just like that, same thing . . . getting
caught up in something . . . and breaking that cycle, it gave me an
opportunity to know where to go. . . . A lot of times you dont
really know where to go or how to start to get yourself a break. Once
you get caught up in that mode, you cant get out of that mode.
Its like a merry-go-round. But they gave me an opportunity to
say, stop and look back at whatcha doin and where you goin.
Now you have an opportunityyou got the positive side . . . and
its all on you. I wanted to do it for such a long time but I just
didnt know how.
- I think the purpose of the treatment court is to give you a second
chance at living. To get your life back together. . . . [Brooklyn Treatment
Court] gave you the opportunity to change your life and get your life
- For me its a rehabilitation. Give me an opportunity to pick
myself up and start over.
- I believe . . . it gives you an opportunity for a second chance. .
. . It gives you a choice.
- An opportunity to turn things around.
Las Vegas focus group participants had widely varying views on what the
purpose of the drug court was and how they regarded the experience. Most
participants agreed that the main purpose of the drug court was to help
people and, in this aim, that it represented a very different criminal
justice experience for them. Common responses to the question asking them
to explain what they believed the purpose of the drug court was included
teaching people how to get off drugs, getting people away
from a lifestyle of drugs and crime, avoiding incarceration, and giving
people an honest chance.
- I think it honestly represents a chance, and somebody who never even
dreamed about turning around, okay, they can. . . .
- I think when the program started the intentions were good. . . .
- You know something, I was hiding out using it for [keeping me] out
of the pen. But it also made me aware. I didnt think I had a problem.
I thought everything was okay. This made me look back and say, Hey,
I was messing up.
- I think the main purpose for drug court is that most of the crime
stems basically from drugs and alcohol and if they can get them to realize
that in the process of the drug court . . . the more people that come
out and decide to stay straight, the less crime it could end up being.
. . .
- I think its to teach someone how to get off drugs and not just
put them in jail.
Some participants had different, more cynical ideas about the purpose
of a drug court. One participant said that the drug court is the governments
way of making money:
- In my opinion just to get money for the State . . . by having you
pay every week.
Another said that the drug court concept was:
- The governments way of dealing with the inability to create
more prison space.
Miami participants saw the drug court as a very helpful experience:
- To help you out . . . to come clean . . . and also the purpose of
it is to clear your record.
- To become clean and show us that there is a better life than drugs.
. . . We dont need that. I have two children and they know I come
here . . . a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old. . . . I tell them very flat
and open, my children. They know why I come here, they know what I do
for a living. Thats the way it is and I feel good coming here.
- To better yourself as a person, right? Just like, I mean, what he
said, you come here to keep clean, aright, to better yourself as a person.
To make you see beyond what youve been doing.
- I think also what theyre saying but also to help people . .
. the people who have really been on drugs . . . to make sound decisions
and I think they really want to help them get back on the right tract
so they can live normal productive lives and get their priorities straight
as far as being aware of themselves and what they want in life because
your priorities change once youre off those drugs and you start
changing, your priorities start changing and you change and I think
that what they want. They want us to change, to get us back to normal,
back on track and live productive normal lives.
- To keep me off of drugs.
One participant saw the drug court as a result of crowded jails:
- One of the reasons they started is cause they didnt have
enough beds in jail. . . . So there was a bed shortage in the jails.
Thats why we first started it.
Portland participants offered a variety of opinions about the goals of
the Portland drug court. Some felt that the program was beneficial since
it provided rules and guidelines for behavior and supervision. One participant
said that the drug court helped him/her set priorities in his/her life.
Another said that the drug court provided structure to his/her life:
- I think the drug court really is all about, or what it is for me,
was to show me that I had an opportunity to get my life together by
making some serious behavioral changes. . . .
- The court is giving you the rules and parameters of behavior while
the facilitators are helping you to live up to that standard.
- For me, it gave me a sense of getting my priorities back in mind and
being structured enough to do what Im supposed to do.
- It gives me a reality check. I had been into drugs so long, so hard,
I had not even slowed down to see where I was standing. I was [committing]
Other participants said that they believed the purpose of the drug court
was to solve a persons addiction problem:
- I think its an attempt to get people out of the system by solving
a persons addiction problem, out of the justice system, some of
the crimes are related to drugs. .
- They said to me, okay, youve been using drugs, you finally got
caught, were not just going to slap you on the hand, were
going to keep you here for a year. Do right. Well feed you all
this stuff, show you the sickness you have, and, after the year, let
you go, its up to you whether youre going to continue using.
- There has never been any place for drug addiction, except the criminal
justice system, and I think this has provided an alternative place for
the medical system, so to speak, in the health care system for drug
addiction, not just the criminal justice system.
One Portland participant thought that the purpose of the drug court was
to reduce recidivism and also reduce jail overcrowding:
- Its going to cut down on the recidivism rate for people who
have drug offenses. Its going to ease overcrowding in the jails.
Its going to save the county and State money in the long run,
because they are going to spend less money putting us through treatment
than they are locking us up.
Some of the participants had less positive comments about what they thought
the purpose of the drug court to be:
- Actually, I think the drug court plays the role of a babysitter.
. . . I think its a babysitting capacity.
One participant said that he thought it was an insurance scam; another
thought it had financial aims:
- They were worried about my insurance. They called me four times to
make sure I got it paid. I dont know that they are being honest
- Its more like a boundary. . . . To me I dont think they
really care . . . much about what happens to you, as long as theyre
doing their job . . . as far as the payment issue and stuff. If you
cant pay they are going to throw you in jail. . . .
San Bernardino participants were convinced the drug court was designed
to help them, to teach them a new way of life, and to give them a second
chance, but with structure and enforcement . . . a needed hammer.
- You dont like it. . . . You gotta go deep down in your heart
and understand its like a second chance. . . . Youd rather
be out here than in jail.
- A second chance at turning your life around. . . . Its the best
place because you got a hammer over your head . . . yknow, jail.
Its like you just gotta do it. Its the hammer.
- Its a mind thing, its all up to you. . . . This program
gonna be on your neck for a year but its all up to you if you
really want to stay clean.
- Most of us want to be different people and have a normal life with
a house and kids and all, but a lot of us are still into drugs and we
dont know how. And, you know, going to jail doesnt stop
us. This gives you a chance to change your life around.
- I think it helps you feel special. . . . I want a future and I couldnt
do that on my own.
- To me, I think its more responsibility. It teaches you how to
be more responsible, how to manage your life, and encourage you to get
a job . . . and give you a different frame of mind than being an addict.
- To show me and my kids a clean way of life and not the life I had
in the past. . . . It tries to show us a different way, hopefully a
Seattle participants saw the drug courts purpose as involving a
response to jail crowding and an element of punishment, but with an overall
- The prisons are getting so overcrowded and theyre not going
to help the addict by throwing them in prison. . . . So the idea of
drug court is to keep them out of prison, put them in treatment and
get their lives back. . . .
- Also, I believe in drug court there is some punishment . . . facing
jail and different types of sanctions. . . . It guides people into different
avenues of opportunity.
- Its treating people like people instead of criminals.
- To give the drug addict an opportunity to get off drugs and straighten
out his life. . . .
- Drug court was designed I believe for political reasons. . . . I believe
it was designed to help overcrowding in the penal institutions. Instead
of warehousing us into institutions, it treats us as individuals.
Back to Drug Court Knowledge
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts