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How common is criminal activity among participants in drug court?


Brooklyn participants saw criminal activity as low:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say, maybe like 3. . . .

  • Just a few.

Las Vegas

When asked to indicate a percentage of drug court participants committing crime while in the program, several Las Vegas participants suggested that about 40 to 45 percent of the drug court participants were engaged in criminal activity. Others thought this percentage was a little high, but did not strenuously disagree:

  • I think there is crime in the program straight out because you know they have theft in night classes. . . . If they are doing it here they are going to do it out there.

Las Vegas focus group participants believed that drug use and crime are linked. A number stated their belief that persons who have stopped using drugs were committing less crime than they would if they were still using. Similarly, drug court participants who were still using were probably more involved in criminal activity than those who had quit:

  • I’m sure it is because, like she was saying, if you’re boosting to get high and you’re not getting high anymore, well then you’re not going to go out and steal as much. . . .

  • I don’t steal anymore. I don’t have no reason to.

  • I don’t commit crimes normally, but because of doing drugs, I committed crimes because I wasn’t thinking straight. . . . If I weren’t on the drugs, I wouldn’t have been committing any crimes.

When asked about the types of crimes being committed, several Las Vegas participants noted that some of their fellow classmates were still selling drugs:

  • A lot of the people that are users too that I know . . . they went on to selling.

  • Shoplifting, selling of drugs. Selling is like the biggest one.

Generally speaking, however, Las Vegas participants appeared to believe that although the drug court does not eliminate all criminal activity, it does have a major impact, particularly for those who take the treatment seriously.


Most Miami participants were unwilling to guess at the level of criminal activity among their peers while they were still in the drug court program. A few participants guessed that about 10 to 15 percent of clients still committed crimes while in drug court. One participant guessed that the rate was more like 5 percent, but a majority of the participants said they just did not know:

  • I haven’t got a clue.

  • About 10 percent.

  • 15 percent . . . especially those who got in court because they was selling drugs, about 10 to 15 percent of dealers.

  • I have no idea what the number would be, as far as the crime.

  • I have no idea . . . low number though.

San Bernardino

Responses from San Bernardino focus group members ranged from stating the incidence is low to saying that giving up drugs has nothing to do with giving up crime:

  • I say 20 out of 100.

  • Ten.

  • It ain’t that much. There is a few, but not many.

  • I gotta do some crime to get the bus to come over here.

  • I don’t think crime—whatever you do outside a drug life—have anything to do with drugs. So if you do crime and stay clean, I think whatever else you do is up to you.

  • People just have their own mind, I mean like a gang-banger, ain’t nobody gonna stop gang-bangers just because they stopped smokin’ weed or sellin’ dope.

  • It just makes ’em more open-minded.

  • If you’re doing any kind of crime, you’re gonna get caught eventually, and you won’t be in the program, you’ll be in jail.

  • For me personally, I don’t have time to do nothin’ else but drug court. . . . You don’t think about crime. Only on weekends, and on weekends you want to spend it with your family.

  • Not only that, in your right mind you ain’t gonna take no risks like that as you would if you were high. . . . Like if you were high, you don’t care. But now you do care about your family and kids and stayin’ out of jail.


Seattle participants also exhibited a variety of responses to the question:

  • I think about 10 percent of the people I know in group are still committing crime.

  • I’d say 15 percent.

  • 50 percent.

  • 75 percent.

  • Because most of them don’t want to quit. They want to continue to stay out and do what they do and they don’t want to go to jail for it. So they just be a little bit slicker about what they doin’.

  • The reason I sayin’ that is ’cause a lot of people don’t have jobs and they gotta have so much money a month to pay their bills. Most of the ones I know are still selling drugs, selling scrips. . . .

    They gotta have income to pay their bills. It’s easy money.

  • For a couple of weeks after I cleaned up, I was still doing my hustle to support myself.

  • A low proportion.

  • Medium.

  • When you come into treatment, the money they give you to live on is so puny and trying to get a place to rent, I would still sell crack just to get ends to meet, period. To survive, you don’t get much money, you don’t get food stamps, and rent in this city is outrageous. So you gonna still have some crime.

  • You talking about honest and crime. You got to be realistic.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002