Skip to Main ContentAn Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts

Do drug courts help people with their problems?


  • I look at it as being a godsend because of the fact just the way the system works . . . and this is just to help people get on the right track.

  • They go out of their way to give you opportunities to do the right thing—understand what I’m saying?

  • I was drugged for 25 years and it held me up, ’cause I didn’t think I had the right to live. The treatment did me good. It put me back with my family, my kids, and everything. And I have four kids—today they love me.

  • For me it was the greatest thing that ever happened. I might be dead. If I were still out there, I would be dead.

  • I believe it gives you an opportunity for a second chance.

Las Vegas

Most Las Vegas participants believed that the drug court presented an opportunity, but success in the program depended on whether they wanted to take advantage of that opportunity:

  • I think it helps the majority of people that want to be there. . . .

  • If people want help, they’ll seek it, you know, through the program or within themselves, and if they don’t and if their addiction is that strong . . . they’re just keep going and . . . not stop.

  • I think it only works if you work it, if you want it to, and I think a lot of people just use it as a scapegoat. . . .

  • It’s all about “help yourself.” It helps the people that want to be helped and even though the people that, you know, may not seem that they want to be helped at first.

  • Yeah, I just got out, well after a year of being clean I thought that I, you know, could handle weekends and stuff like that—that was completely wrong . . . so now I know it’s like I can’t do it, period. But it helps those that want to be helped and sometime it makes people that at first don’t want to be helped realize that they need help.
  • It’s an opportunity for those that want help. Those that don’t want help, they’re not ready for it yet. You can’t force it.

Some Las Vegas participants saw the program as something they were compelled to do, given unpalatable alternatives such as incarceration. This seemed, in their minds, to represent a less noble motivation than wanting to get off drugs:

  • I pushed in the drug court because I didn’t want to go to prison.

  • I think their intentions are good—you know, they want to help people, you know, to get off the drugs or whatever the problem is, but I do basically think that a lot of people are using it just to get out of trouble.

  • No, I don’t think it helps them ’cause I still get high and I know everybody gets high still in this program, you know, but it makes you have to quit if you want to or not, otherwise you are going to jail.


Similar views were expressed by Miami focus group participants:

  • I think it helps a lot of people, whoever wants to be helped. . . . If they see you want to be helped, they gonna work with you, they gonna deal with you, they gonna help you. But if they don’t see you want to get help or you spend time other than in court and you seem like you don’t want help, don’t need help, he be quick to let you go. But if you want the help, need the help, if you really into the program, he stick with you and work around what you need. . . .

  • Oh yeah. If it weren’t for the drug program, I would probably be out there right now getting me something to get high on.

  • I think, like, it’s not a program, it’s in your mind. It’s a mind thing, ya know what I’m saying, you gotta want to start. So it’s like what you do out there, you can’t just bring it in here. . . . You can bring it here and talk about your problems. . . . Like she say, when she graduated, she got back on or whatever. Like I say, it’s a mind thing, you gotta want to stop.

  • Drug court ain’t gonna do it. The individual gotta do it. Saying that you want to stop is the beginning and the drug court just offers help on how to live a life without doing drugs.

  • Absolutely it helps. It keeps you aware of the fact that if you don’t get through this program you’re going to jail. And if you’re really concerned about your problem it really helps you with that too. All of it seems to keep your mind off the drug. It really helps me.

At least one participant was not so sure about the long-term effect for him/her:

  • I say it doesn’t help because I myself, I am a cocaine user, and smoke, yeah I can stay clean through this program. But if I want to better myself, do I have that same responsibility to pick up that same memory. It ain’t like now is going to lead to the future. If it gonna lead me forever, I say yeah this program is great . . . y’know what I saying. Throughout my lifetime. But I gonna start again.


Portland focus group participants also agreed that drug court presented a potentially beneficial opportunity:

  • The court is giving you the rules and parameters of behavior, while the facilitators are helping you to live up to that standard.

  • It gives me a reality check.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino participants were fairly unanimous in their belief that the drug court helped.

  • I do, it was great. If a person wants to clean up. . . . I think that every community should have it.

  • But you know they have a choice to make. They don’t have to be there if they don’t want to. This is an option.

  • People that want to be helped; people—you have to be willing, you have to want help. If you don’t you are just wasting space for somebody else who needs help, that’s willing to help themselves.

  • The drug court is not easy, but it does help.

  • You have to be willing to admit that you are an addict and take direction from people, even if it doesn’t make sense to you at the time. But the counselors obviously have more experience in this situation. A lot of times it doesn’t make sense to you what they’re telling you to do. But it usually does help.

  • I’m making all these excuses, drug court lets you focus on where you at. . . . Those excuses, even all this tragedy in my life, I still say I’m gonna do it my way. I’ve been shot twice and stabbed—none of that stopped me to focus on myself except stop my addictive behavior.

  • When I first came here, it’s like I don’t want to be here. . . . It’s changed my mind.


Similarly, Seattle focus group participants regarded the drug court as helpful, as making a real difference:

  • Yeah, if you want it to. . . .

  • If you want to help yourself, it’s gonna work. . . .

  • Helped me a lot—saved my life.

  • I never would have gone into treatment had it not been for drug court.

  • Just the fact that they were willing to pay for my treatment—that was a deciding factor for me. They said they would pay for my treatment and I said that’s great—I wanted to get in treatment for 3 years before I got into the drug court program.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002