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 thats
going up . . . they brings that on themselves. If you do something that
that know is wrong and that youre going to have to be back there,
thats the worst. But they bring it on themselves. You all know
what Im sayingif you go up in the court and you know youre
goin to get hit in the headyou know you shouldnt did
whatever you did.
- Some people cant 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 aint no more treatment. The State or whoever says we
cant do this no more. Thats the worst thing you could think
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 youre going to jail is the worst part.
- I think thats the main reason people get bench warrants, because
they dont want to face him.
- You want to tell him your excuse you think. You know hes 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.
- Im on a bench warrant and I know damn well theres a real
good chance that my a** is probably going to jail. . . . I understand
hes heard a lot of excuses and hes 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, youre still treated like
a human being. . . . So hes right and what are you going to do
about it? And if he dont 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 dont even look at the man. You just keep your head
down and say I screwed up and put your hands behind your back. Cause
- 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
- 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 weekWell, 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 dont have
a good counselor and it spoils . . . and the counselor is so mean even
if youre clean. He treat you, somehow, Im not accusing anyone,
Im 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
- I think the worst part is if you go into court and you know that
youve screwed up and that youve got to be sanctioned. I
think its 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 youve been good, but still you dont
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, hes just that dedicated to
- The worst part for me was the man in the green suit comin up
behind me. If he comes anywhere near you, that means youre fixin
to go into the back [holding]. You hear the keys a-rattlin. Barney
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 Im trying to get a decent job, trying to get back
on line and lets face it, you cannot go to the average employer
and say, Well, hi, Im 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
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 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 youre going to the box.
- Silver handcuffs.
- When he [the court bailiff] stands up, gets out of his chair and
starts walking back to you, thats 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 dont want
to shut up for a while. They get pissed off and then the judge gets
pissed off. I dont want to go to jail because someone else is
- Being in the box.
- Seeing somebody who has almost completed the program test dirty.
Thats real bad.
Back to The Courtroom Experience
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts