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What makes a person successful in drug court?


Some Brooklyn participants suggested that they could tell who would not make it as early as Phase I, which they viewed as the most difficult transition into the program:

  • If you’re not going to make it, you’re not going to make it past Phase I. ’Cause that’s when it’s real intense.

  • Yeah, we had two runners right off the bat. That’s when they go.

Others were not as certain, believing instead that participants could fail at any time:

  • I knew some people who got through and as soon as they finished it, graduated, they got high.

  • The day I got released from jail, they was four of us. I’m the only one left.

Las Vegas

Opinions among Las Vegas participants suggested that, in general, defendants who complete the program have made a personal commitment to change their lives:

  • It’s a new way of life. For some people it’s a new life.

  • Some things you’re doing you’ve got to carry with you, you know, keep from going back. . . .

  • I know . . . after being in prison for a year, the first thing I did was drugs and I’m not promising anything, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it this time when I get done with this.

  • It all depends on the individual person, because some people they just want to get out so they can go and do their drugs again. Other people, it’s like they really change their life through the program and realize that they had a problem and they don’t want to go back to that, because their whole life has changed for the better. So it just depends on the individual people.


In Miami, participants who succeeded did so because:

  • They wanted to do it.

  • They had the desire. . . . That’s all you need.

  • They wanted it.

  • They want to do it. The desire.


Portland focus group members also believed that success in the drug court program depends on an individual’s desire to stay clean:

  • The people who make it through this program are the people that really wanted it. Yeah, they really worked hard to get it.

  • She just said the key thing. It has to be you . . . because if you want it [drugs], you’ll get it.

San Bernardino

In San Bernardino, participants also agreed that those who succeeded were the ones with the desire to make it.

  • The ones around me . . . seems like I know all the dopers . . . some of them I look at I can see a schemer. I can see one that’s for real too. I can see the ones that wants some dope and the ones that don’t. So, there’s a variety around in that courtroom.

  • The beginning is the hardest. But when they think they made it to the end, they relax too much.

  • People fail all the time. Phase I. In the beginning. Or at the very end.

  • It’s all up to the individual. You gotta grow up one of these days.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002