Is jail important? How well would drug court work if the
judge didnt send people to jail when they were performing poorly?
Brooklyn participants who had been to jail previously found it to be
a negative and unproductive experience:
- Before I come to the [Brooklyn Treatment Court], the total amount of
time I spent in jail, give or take, was about 60 days. It was an experience
. . . and I said its really got to stop.
- I spent time in jail6 monthsthis is why I like the program.
When you get out of jail, theres nothing to do. You go back to the
- You can get high in jail.
- Here you get outside treatment to go, to but in jail you dont
have nothing. You get to go back to the same atmosphere.
- Because we know if you stay in jail too long, you gonna come out like
raving idiots or animals.
The use of jail as a sanction was central in much of the focus group
discussion in Brooklyn:
- [Jail] is a wakeupdefinitely.
- You need to be scared of something [to make this work].
- We dont call it jail, we call it remanded, sanctioned. I didnt
want to go to my day program so she sanctioned me to 2 days in jail. I
got out of there and went straight to a residential program.
- Thats the time you get your head cleared up and think about where
- She gave me 2 days in the Brooklyn House, and I laughed. Then I did
2 weeks in the
Brooklyn House and I laughed. Then I did 1 month and a half in the Brooklyn
House and I got out and was ready to do the right thing.
- For me it was because it made me realize that she wasnt going
to play around. . . . I got time. . . . Just the fact that you can go
back to jail, you want to make the extra effort to go straight.
- Did 14 days. Called her every name in the book. When I got back there,
I thought about it.When she said 14 days, thats it.
- For me, it made me realize she wasnt going to play around. If
you do this, then you gonna go to jail.
- [Jail] keeps you in check.
A real desire to avoid incarceration was obvious throughout the focus
group discussions of Las Vegas participants:
- The drug court makes you have to get clean, otherwise youre going
to jail. Its either or, you know.
- You know, it makes you have to quit if you want to, otherwise you are
going to jail.
- The last time I was in court he said, Do you want to be in this
program? and I was dying to say, No I hate it.. . .
But Im not going to say that. Hell say 30 days in jail, the
maximum he can give me now.
- I pushed and worked in the drug court because I didnt want to
go to prison. . . .
Miami participants agreed that the threat of jail was a real motivator
in drug court:
- Yesits very important. [General consensus.]
- Jail is his hammer when people are out of compliance.
- Jail motivates change.
- Program would not work without jail.
- No, without jail, no. It wouldnt work. Judge is sayin,
Like, try to do it again. If theres no jail, no punishment,
they dont listen, they just go through it. . . .
- Jail do help you want to change. Want to change what you are in the
world. Like me. Like I go to my old spot, my hanging spot. . . . I want to go back home. I
dont want to have to come here or go to jail. . . .
One participant argued that incarceration was not an appropriate response
- I think its a good program for the purpose of staying out of
jail, for getting something off your record. . . . But, from a users
point of view, I dont think jail should be associated with this.
Its more of a sickness, its not a criminal kinda thing. But
this is an option to keep you out of jail but I dont think its
the ultimate answer.
At least one Portland participant saw avoiding incarceration as a motivating
factor, but others focused on other aspects of the situation:
- Everybody is here to avoid jail. . . .
- If you dont stay on the programs, then it goes back to the court
systems and then youre from square one again.
- I think this is easier than being on probation because I feel on probation
there is time when they can just send you to jail and Ive got kids
to take care of.
While San Bernardino participants did not specifically say much about
going to jail, they almost all expressed a great deal of fear or apprehension
about being sent to the box by Judge Morris. Being sent to
the box means that the drug court participant is told to sit in the jury
box for the remainder of the court session, and then usually placed in
jail. Once in the box, the participant sometimes will not
know whether he or she is going to jail until the conclusion of the session:
- Like youre required to test. If you dont test you go to
jail for a week. Its like, Get in the box.
- Its the incentive to stay clean, cause nobody likes the
- Jail is the final thing.
- Just because I was honest, he wasnt mad. I mean, he was disappointed
but he wasnt mad and he still made me go to jail for the weekend
and he still made me feel good cause I was honest.
The drug court approach in Seattle under Judge MacInnes was unique in
its use of incarceration. The judge would send people to jail as a sanction,
but would allow them to schedule when they would go, as long as it was
within the next 2 weeks. Defendants who were being sent to jail would
not be taken into custody in court, but would be allowed to go home and
make arrangements with family, employer, etc., and then turn themselves
in to the jail on the day selected. Rather remarkably, very few participants
ordered to jail fail to turn themselves in as required:
- It doesnt matter when you go, it sucks. . . .
- I really dont think soyou have like a 2-week period of
time that shell allow you, you know, because youve come forward
instead of running off when you know youve screwed up, youve
come forward and are standing in front of her to take your punishment
so youre being, in that respect and so, you know, youre standing
there with a little, I know I screwed up, so that during that
period of time what day is convenient for you. Because besides doing drugs,
I have a life aside from drugs. I know usually people like us dont
have something happening, but we might have gained a little something
and so she be flexible.
- If you get picked up on a warrant, its a mandatory 10 days in
jail. But if you miss your court date and you bring yourself in the following
day, no sanctions, no nothing. . . . But dont make a habit of it.
- They let you turn yourself in. I like it because it gives us the responsibility.
They trust us and its better then. Cause otherwise we could
just take off. . . . I got to pick my days. I went down there and turned
myself in on the days I picked. . . . You know they trust us to turn ourselves
in rather than just arrest us right there in court.
- Sanctions would be harsher if you didnt turn yourself in. You
probably have to do double the time. And plus get a warrant.
Back to Court Responses
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts