Skip to Main ContentAn Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts

How seriously do your peers take drug court?


Brooklyn participants were asked to assess how many of their peers did not take the program seriously, at least at first, or were just trying to “get over.”

  • All of us.

  • Yes. [Unanimous.] At first.

  • That’s why I was here . . . just to get the 12 months over . . . just here to do my time.

They were asked how many people were likely to get through the entire program not taking it seriously or “faking it.” Opinions differed:

  • Nobody.

  • A few.

  • Four out of ten.

  • It might start out that way. But you can’t get all the way through.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas focus group participants noted that many people who enter the drug court program do not take it seriously at first, because their motivation is to avoid a conviction rather than to address a drug problem. When asked, focus group participants estimated that from 50 to 70 percent of persons in the drug court start out with the attitude of trying to “get over” on the program or just wanting to get through it:

  • A lot of them are not dedicated, taking it serious, focusing.

  • A lot of them are trying to trick, you know, the process . . . by being able to go in there to urinate by themselves or whatever, or sort of to speak by themselves and have another alternative for it.

  • [But] the ones that have been tricking the process all of a sudden are like, “Oh, man, I’m dirty.” . . . They are coming up dirty, so you know.

Several Las Vegas participants also noted that defendants’ attitudes often change during the treatment process and that few make it as far as graduation trying to fake their way through the program:

  • But you know what, as long as I’ve been in this program, I seen people change their attitudes. It started out like that. . . . Well even if they haven’t gotten in trouble, I’ve seen people change their attitudes, like it’s not worth it, this really is for my better.


Miami focus group participants voiced similar sentiments regarding the motivation of their peers, believing that a good number of participants started drug court thinking they would just get by, avoid jail, and get it over with:

  • I think that after they go back to jail couple of times, then they get serious about it. At the beginning they not really serious about it.

  • A couple a people [are trying to fake it] because . . . you can tell by what all the people say, and what phase you are in now. I know [if] me and her got here together and I’m going to Phase III, and she’s still in I or II, then she’s not too serious. . . . You know, you can tell by what phase you’re in.

  • In order to get by, you gotta be clean, right? To get by, you gotta get clean, don’t you? So, what does it matter? Who they foolin’?

  • A majority [try to get by] . . . at first. Definitely.

  • Less than half take it serious. I know a lot of people just go to get out of the program. It’s different—after you finish with the program, what you gonna do with your life? It’s absolute serious. For a year you have to . . . work at it. Make your mind up . . . grow up.

But the skeptical view was not unanimous:

  • The people in our group all take it very seriously.


Portland participants offered widely ranging views regarding the percentage of their peers who were trying to “get by” or “beat the system.” Estimates among participants ranged from 50 to 80 percent of participants trying to get by to an estimate of 85 percent of participants trying to make it. Again, several agreed that most participants begin by not taking the program seriously, but that many change their minds over time:

  • But you know, what I’ve noticed is that the people that were faking it didn’t last.

All agreed that success in the program depended upon an individual’s desire to stay clean, and that it was impossible for a participant to “fake it” through the entire program. Sooner or later, the program “catches up with you.”

  • Nobody. You can’t fake it. You are not going to fake it through the whole thing.

San Bernardino

Among San Bernardino participants there was a clear, shared view that trying to get through the drug court treatment program by “faking it” would not succeed:

  • You can see right through them.

  • There’s no way you can fake this program.

When asked why, they pointed to drug testing:

  • Because the way they test you. They know.

One participant pointed out, however, that:

  • They don’t test very well for alcohol. It’s harder for them to test.


Among Seattle participants, the same themes were heard. There was general agreement that many people might not take the program seriously at the beginning, but that it was rare that individuals would really succeed by faking it all the way through:

  • They may start that way but they won’t end up that way.

  • Seems like everyone starts off thinking they can beat this some kind of way, well mostly everybody. But the further you get into the program, that all changes. But when you first start, I just didn’t want to go to the penitentiary. I didn’t care about the rest.

  • About 70 percent are trying to fake it. At least to start, when they first start.

  • Oh it’s hard to fake it all the way through. [General consensus.]

Seattle participants seemed to convey disappointment in individuals who tried to beat the program rather than to work hard to succeed:

  • I know of two individuals . . . there is two people . . . I be there on the day they graduated.

  • They did a damn good job of faking it all the way through, graduated and they’re downtown selling dope.

  • I met up with one of my friends who started when I did. She was still relapsing and I don’t know, I feel kinda sorry for her . . . but she’s not taking it serious and I am taking it serious. And it’s kinda like I don’t want to hang out with her . . . ’cause if I’m around her, I’ll use.

  • There’s an old saying in AA: fake it until you make it.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002