Skip to Main ContentAn Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts

Would you rather be in drug court or go to jail for a few months?


Brooklyn participants believed that, while drug court might be tough, jail was not worthwhile:

  • In the beginning I did [believe that I’d rather go to jail]. ’Cause I didn’t really want to change. I acted like, you know, I really would have rather done my time.

  • Uh-uh. I would never do the 10 years. No way.

  • There were times I did stay in here, and things were tough, and I really felt like serving my time. Just do the 1 and be done.

  • Before this, I got sanctioned, I said to myself I should had done the time she offered me in the beginning . . . ’cause right now I could have been home by now. I could deal with the jail. But the TC is mentally you gotta deal with yourself. In jail you don’t have to do that.

Las Vegas

When asked if they would rather have gone to jail than attend drug court, most Las Vegas focus group participants answered with a resounding “no.” One participant mentioned that being in jail is easier than going through the drug court. Another said that if he “went to jail . . . [he’d] be out by now.” In contrast, most participants felt strongly that drug court was much better than going to jail, and gave the impression that, even for those who had been incarcerated multiple times in the past, avoiding jail was a high priority:

  • No way. Some people are like that because they don’t have a family lifestyle. They’re used to living in the street. They don’t have nobody to look forward to, like me I got kids, I got children, you know. I got somebody to live for, like, a daughter. She’s 16 years old and a little boy that’s 6 years old.

  • Some people will want to continue to do their drugs so they rather go to jail, do their time, get back out to do their drugs.

  • The felony would stick to my record, you know, whereas I’m doing it like this, you know. This is the only thing on my record, period. No traffic ticket or anything, just this. You know, if I get finished with this then, you know, the felony is off my record. . . . If you don’t want anything else in your life, it cool, but it’s a lot you cannot do with a felony. There’s a lot you can’t do.

  • I’ve done a year in prison up in Carson City and my family couldn’t come to visit me. . . . Down here in this program, I can go to the movies, I can go bowling, I can do other things. It’s much better even though it’s inconvenient. It’s a good inconvenience.

When asked if it is easier to be in the drug court or incarcerated, Las Vegas participants argued that drug court is far from easy:

  • No. No it isn’t [easier in drug court]. I don’t want to go to jail. It’s just as easier to go to prison and do nothing for a year but lay around and I mean, you know, what’s the use, then that’s the lifestyle you’ve become accustomed to. . . . They will not hire felonies. That’s all there is to it.


Miami drug court participants found nothing positive or desirable about going to jail:

  • Jail doesn’t help you get clean. This program helps you get clean and there is no way around it. You have to get clean one way or the other or you’re not gonna get on the program. And once you go to these groups, you don’t ever want to get high again ’cause they give you the strength and courage not to ever want to do that, to move on to a better life. Jail doesn’t do anything for you. The program helps you get clean and stay clean.

  • Jail is not sanitary either. Have you ever been to the Dade County jail? When I was there, ladies sleeping on the floor, coughing in your face, it’s nasty, very nasty, and the food they serve isn’t too good either.

  • It’s easier for whoever don’t want to get clean, if you just want to do the jail time and get out and get high, it’s easier.

  • You go, then you come out and do the same thing. I don’t want to be locked up, no.

  • I think it’s a good program for the purpose of staying out of jail, for getting something off your record. . . . But, from a user’s point of view, I don’t think jail should be associated with this. It’s more of a sickness, it’s not a criminal kind of thing. But this is an option to keep you out of jail but I don’t think it’s the ultimate answer.

Miami focus group participants acknowledged, nevertheless, that the threat of incarceration was an important factor in motivating drug court participants to continue in the program and comply with its conditions:

  • Yes. [General consensus.]

  • Jail is his hammer when people are out of compliance.

  • Jail motivates change.

  • No, without jail, no. Like, try to do it again. If there’s no jail, no punishment, they don’t listen, they just go through it. . . .

  • For me, it probably would work. This program saved my job. So I have to come. Without this program I probably would have lost 20-some years on the same job.

Some were more qualified in their responses about incarceration:

  • If it wasn’t for my job, I wouldn’t care if I go to jail and got rid of the whole thing.

  • It depends on how long you gotta go to jail for.


The proposition that it would generally be easier and more desirable just to go to jail and “do the time” than to go to drug court was greeted with a nearly unanimous negative response among Portland drug court participants. One participant stated that those who preferred to go to jail were institutionalized.

  • This is my fourth treatment program and it’s the only one that’s done anything and I think that’s because I had a hammer over my head constantly.


  • Yeah. I’m scared. This is why I’m telling you. This is one of the main reasons I’m staying away from drugs, is because I hate jail and I don’t want to go there. I like my freedom too much. I hate everything about it. So jail means a lot to me when you got jail hanging over your head.

  • I feel jail. Nobody likes it, okay? But I’m not afraid of it.

  • When you’re using, you’re not afraid of jail, that’s a risk you take.

  • When you get clean and sober, you get a little bit apprehensive about going to jail.

  • I have claustrophobia. I can’t go to jail.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002