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What is the worst part of going to drug court?


Brooklyn drug court participants cited facing the judge after wrongdoing as the “worst part.”

  • The worst part of what happens is what you see . . . the person that’s going up . . . they brings that on themselves. If you do something that that know is wrong and that you’re going to have to be back there, that’s the worst. But they bring it on themselves. You all know what I’m saying—if you go up in the court and you know you’re goin’ to get hit in the head—you know you shouldn’t did whatever you did.

  • Some people can’t take it. They act stupid. The judge was saying like, “What was you thinking? This is the second time you done tried this, you know.”

  • The one thing [bad] could be coming into the court and them telling you there ain’t no more treatment. The State or whoever says we can’t do this no more. That’s the worst thing you could think of.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas participants believed that the worst part of going to court was that the judge would know when they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing and that, if so, they risked his anger and sanctions, including the possibility of going to jail. Some participants in the Las Vegas focus groups indicated that the judge often intimidated them, and that they felt humiliated when, if they were found to be “dirty,” the judge scolded them in court in front of everyone else:

  • Not knowing if you’re going to jail is the worst part.

  • Intimidation.

  • I think that’s the main reason people get bench warrants, because they don’t want to face him.

  • You want to tell him your excuse you think. You know he’s heard excuses but this one really happened.

  • When he sits there and calls you a liar.

  • The main thing is he made me feel like an a** most of the time.

  • I’m on a bench warrant and I know damn well there’s a real good chance that my a** is probably going to jail. . . . I understand he’s heard a lot of excuses and he’s heard some pretty good ones, you know, so he has got to be a little hard, but there are extenuating circumstances and in any other court, you’re still treated like a human being. . . . So he’s right and what are you going to do about it? And if he don’t like your attitude, 4 days, or, really, you still want to keep it up, 7 days, well how you would you like 2 weeks? You don’t even look at the man. You just keep your head down and say I screwed up and put your hands behind your back. ’Cause you’re going.

  • Having to give up the money when you get there.


Focus group participants in Miami even pointed out seeing other people being incarcerated as the worst part. Part of this fear of sanctions seemed tied to uncertainty about what the judge would do when it came to their cases:

  • When you see the people come up dirty and he look under the screen and he say, “Hmm, you been doing something, huh?” . . . You got it up there on the screen and once they say it to him they tell him a lie. . . . I did some last week—“Well, sit over there.” . . . The bailiff will come out and take them to the back, let drop urine . . . come up dirty . . . lock ’em up and see you in 2 weeks.

  • Yeah, I agree with that. To see somebody incarcerated, going to jail. Right. Going to his hotel. . . .

One Miami participant noted that having a poor relationship with the counselor could be the worst part if he/she did not stand up for them:

  • The worst part for me I think that sometime if you don’t have a good counselor and it spoils . . . and the counselor is so mean even if you’re clean. He treat you, somehow, I’m not accusing anyone, I’m just saying some counselors are hard-nosed with someone more than the others.

  • Just sittin’ there.


Portland focus group participants showed a mix of responses to the “worst part” question:

  • I think the worst part is if you go into court and you know that you’ve screwed up and that you’ve got to be sanctioned. I think it’s the fear that something is going to happen to you.

  • Well, the worst part of going to court, I think, is going up in front of the judge. You know you’ve been good, but still you don’t know what the judge is going to say, and I get uptight. On the day of court I usually wind up with a headache just sitting there.

  • When I first started in the program it seemed like every time someone really needed a break, he [InAct liaison] was doing just what he could not to give them a break, but by the time I graduated, I realized that [he] was really doing 12-step work, he’s just that dedicated to sobriety.

  • The worst part for me was the man in the green suit comin’ up behind me. If he comes anywhere near you, that means you’re fixin’ to go into the back [holding]. You hear the keys a-rattlin’. Barney Fife.

Focus group participants in Portland singled out both the assistant district attorney and the treatment representative as not being helpful and making them feel like the enemy:

  • The DA seems to be really hot on payment. She never helps you out or she never gives you a break. Regardless what you say, she just never lets you slide at all.

  • It is like you always feel like the enemy.

Other comments dealt with how difficult it was for some participants to make the treatment and court appointments and still hold a job:

  • I used to sell drugs to make money, so you know my business is shut down. Okay, so I’m trying to get a decent job, trying to get back on line and let’s face it, you cannot go to the average employer and say, “Well, hi, I’m recovering from drugs but I want a job.” I got a very good one at a very good company. But if they knew anything about my background. . . . I had to hide this for a full year. What I had to do, I had to come up with a monthly excuse and show up in court. . . . Every month I have to go in to my employer and give . . . him a big line of bull so I can take a couple of hours and go to court.

At least one participant could not distinguish between the “best” and “worst” parts of the courtroom experience:

  • I think it [the whole program] is a waste of time and money.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino participants mentioned the prospect of being confined for failure to comply with program conditions and the prospects of others’ failing as the worst parts.

  • To see us get up when you’re going to the “box.”

  • Silver handcuffs.

  • When he [the court bailiff] stands up, gets out of his chair and starts walking back to you, that’s the worst part. You know you be going to jail unless you can talk your way out of it.

  • The worst part about going to court is before you go in the court a lot of people are talking in the hallways and they don’t want to shut up for a while. They get pissed off and then the judge gets pissed off. I don’t want to go to jail because someone else is talking.

  • Being in the “box.”

  • Seeing somebody who has almost completed the program test dirty. That’s real bad.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002