Do you think the rules are fair?
Brooklyn focus group participants appeared, in general, to find the drug court experience fair:
- The rules are fair. . . . [General agreement.]
- Of course.
- Think where we could be at . . . behind bars . . . doin what you have to do. At least now
you have a chance. You go about your business.
- Maybe a little too soft . . . with a violation.
- I would disagree when I first came in, but after I got into the process, I knew I needed to
set some bounds to take care of myself.
- I disagree. I gotta work Monday through Friday, I dont have no time to myself cept on
the weekend, yknow. And for the urine that I gave when I came inI come in with a 130
urine and I gotta start the process all over again.
- Its like they say, if you dont understand it, you dont agree with it. But once you realize
whats being done for you is in your best interest, there is no other reason for you not to
go along. . . . And if you buck it, you get slapped. Know what Im sayin.
- They some individuals who dont want it. If they dont want it, fine. But if you want it,
theyll help you.
Some Las Vegas participants had particular grievances about incidents that had happened to
themsuch as not being able to pay the fee or not attending treatmentwhen circumstances
had, in their view, just made this impossible. There was some feeling that a little more flexibility
would be desirable:
- The only rule I dont think is fair, but I guess because Im not in here for that, is that
alcohol is legal.
- I dont think its fair about sometimes coming to class and if youre a minute or two late
the doors are locked and youre out, thats it. There used to be makeups here when I first
started. . . . I mean, you know, s*** happens, man, everybody gets the breakdown or
whatever, you know, whos to say whos Father Time and where they could be setting
their clocks by. Two minutes after 7 oclock and youre screwed. . . .
- I disagree with that because too many people take advantage of you. . . . I think the rule is
good for us. . . .
- A little flexibility. . . .
- He yells at you.
- When I first came into the system I cooperated for the first 2 weeks and then I got
pneumonia and for 2 weeks I couldnt come but I kept in contact over the phone. Well,
when I went to the doctor and he wrote me an excuse but didnt write it for the full 2
weeks, he just dated it. . . . I got to court and the judge put me in jail for 4 days and I was
still sick the next day. . . .
- [When he put me in jail], I was very depressed and both times I got out of jail I went right
out and got high. It was like a rebellion thing. I guess it was stupid . . . but it was all
about, yeah, go ahead and throw me in jail, Im just going to get out and do the same
damn thing. . . . Well, I think it was the right thing for him to do . . . he followed through.
- Pretty much the only job I can hold right now [because of the treatment program and
court schedule] is a graveyard job. I dont have any job right now because of meeting the
demands [of the program].
- Look, I was 5 minutes late to class and Diane wouldnt let me in but heres the speeding
ticket from a cop. He dont care, you know. You should have left earlier. . . . It does not
However, mixed in with the individual anecdotes about incidents in which focus group
participants felt they had not been treated as fairly as they would have liked, the general
sentiment (particularly when participants were talking about other peoples experiences) was
nevertheless that the rules were necessarily strict and that the judge was fairly consistent in his
enforcement of the rules:
- Sure, it makes you realize why hes putting you in jail. . . .
- [The rules] are fair but everybody does slip and you do have problems. This town is a
fast, fast town and things dont always go your way. . . . They dont take any of that into
- I have a lot of respect for the man, and I think hes really trying to help us and the s*** that he hears from people. . . . But dont waste his time. Thats how I think he feels. He
hears it all, you know, and he hears some crap. A lot of crap. I cant believe some of the
excuses people have given him. I mean, he still gives them chances sometimes too, you
- The first time I got dirty, he didnt lock me up for 4 days. He locked me up for a week
and that was just one dirty for alcohol.
- That was the same rule I went to jail for. He did the same two people after me, I believe,
because he was so mad at me.
- I went to jail because I forgot a court date and then stayed in jail for 3 weeks.
Miami focus group participants all had the original drug court judge (the first in the nation and
the longest continuing), the Honorable Stanley Goldstein, as their common frame of reference.
They described a fair and consistent experience relating to sanctions and rewards in the drug
- Yeah, very fairly.
- I dont know about being sanctioned. I dont see getting more help in jail. Because in jail
people go on and do this and do thisbad influenceyou dont have that help. Its all
- Yeah, if you dont do what youre supposed to do for the system to help you, then you pay
the consequences. I think its a fair game. If you go to court dirty . . . if you come here and
drop urine and its dirty . . . he says, Well youre dirty, then you pay the consequences.
- Yeah, I do because I come up dirty, because of all my testing for cancer and everything
and its not fair to me, yknow. Judge Goldstein sees the screen and tells me Im dirty . . .
they throw me on the side, okay? And everybody in the audience, all the addicts, are
laughing at me, okay? I get nervous, I start crying because I suffer anxiety depression,
okay . . . and I know hes going to take me in the back and make me urinate, so I have to
drop, then he comes out and he says shes clean. Meanwhile everybody else is gone from
the courtroom and they all think I was dirty and Im not. . . .
- Its kind of hard on their part cause theyre just doing their job. They gonna be getting
that stuff from them, so some still gonna be using. They say Im gonna have this in my
system anyway so I might as well get high. . . . They dont know who is still getting high
or is just getting drugs or whos just getting these drugs and being honest. They dont
know. They cant tell. If your study coming up dirty, they cant tell whether youre using
or not because they not with you 24 hours. . . .
- If you a user, you a seller, you could have been Scarface himself, you come through this
court here, they give you a chance, I know that. Other things you can do . . . you come
through here, if you do get caught with a key, you know what I saying, you know you
aint coming back here, no mo. Thats your opportunity right there. You go to prison,
jail, or death. Through here, its a chance to go through life . . . try to live another year,
having Christmas next year, its a chance, you know what Im saying.
Most of the Portland participants comments on the fairness of application of the drug court rules
centered on going to jail. There was consensus among some that being sent to jail as a sanction
was based on a partly arbitrary process, depending on the judge and an element of chance.
Sometimes they knew they should be sent to jail, but the judge gave them another chance. At
other times, they reported that the judge would unexpectedly decide to make an example of them
by sending them to jail:
- I felt treated unfair. Yes, I did make a mistake, but I was never given a warning about
going to jail. I was never given a sanction like that except for sitting in court for a couple
of days all day.
- Well, I had one dirty UA and I was really chastised for not admitting it, and I feel its like
you must be crazy if you think Im going to admit something, you know, and risk going to
jail. So its like, you know, you get rewarded . . . you get punished for being honest.
Portland focus group responses about the fairness of the rules, particularly for noncompliance,
varied quite a bit by participant. Several participants felt they had been treated unfairly for their
transgressions; some complained about particular instances in court. The common theme among
their comments was a feeling that rules were applied inconsistently. A number of participants
explained that this was the natural result of having so many different judges sitting in the drug
court and their frequent rotation:
- They need to set up some kind of guidelines to make sure everybody gets treated the
same. . . . If you do this, this is your punishment.
One participant reported, for example, that he/she was sent to jail for his first dirty UA, when
others were given lighter sanctions for the same offense (e.g., ordered to sit in court all day).
Another stated that he/she had three consecutive dirty UAs, which should have resulted in his/her
termination from the program, but the judge gave him/her another chance. Similarly, one
participant stated that he/she knew he/she was going to drop his/her first dirty UA but he/she
chose not to admit it because of the threat of going to jail; essentially, he/she felt he/she would be punished for his/her honesty, rather than rewarded and given a lighter sanction. Another
participant felt the rules were fair and argued that the inconsistency came from the programs
attempt to treat each case individually and from the different judges who presided in the Portland
(Multnomah County) Drug Court.
Among San Bernardino focus group participants, there was an overall view that the drug court
was fair, but there were mixed views in individual cases:
- [Are the rules fair?] Yeah. [General agreement.]
- Uh, no. Just a couple of them. . . . You lose your court [date] card and you go to jail.
- I dont like the money thing. You got no money and you still have to pay.
- Not all of them. I think people are putting in great effort and theyre showing growth and .
. . they should take that into consideration for some people. Because a lot of them come
straight from jail . . . and dont have the money to give.
- I think the money is fair, because, yknow, you got money for drugs. . . . Its not too
much, $10 a week.
Seattle participants generally agreed that the program was fair:
- It feels fair. [General agreement.]
- Theres one thing I didnt like when I came here. I was already clean. They give you the
rundown, if you mess up, if you mess up. Im like, hey, Im doin good. We gonna get
you here, we gonna get you there. Its more or less like theyre waiting for me to screw
- Youre the exception. [General agreement.]
Back to Court Responses
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts