This past weekend National Public Radio’s This American Life ran a disturbing report on a Drug Court in Georgia that seems more akin to Soviet justice than to therapeutic justice. To listen to the report, Very Tough Love, click Here.
The program reports serious and systemic problems with one drug court in Georgia including disproportionate sentences both for defendants who opt to not do drug court and for those who do it and fail. The court seems set up in a way to guarantee that participants will fail. The court reportedly responds to standard (and expected) violations by the participants exclusively with ever increasing periods in custody. The report tells about one drug court participant with no prior criminal record whose initial offense was passing two bad checks for a total of $100. This defendant ended up in drug court for five years during which time she served 14 months in custody and then she served five additional years in custody. As NPR reported, the average drug court program in the USA lasts 15 months, not five years. In addition to the time served there seems to be serious violations of basic rights like denial of access to medical care. Judge Amanda Williams reportedly runs the court with little regard for the rights of those who come to the court. She also reportedly suffers from a complete misunderstanding about the basic goals and approaches of therapeutic justice.
I hope that this report will lead to an investigation of this drug court and action to ensure the rights are protected of those defendants who are currently under its jurisdiction. I also hope that the Georgia Bar acts quickly to open an investigation of Judge Williams for what seem to be serious allegations of judicial misconduct.
Unfortunately, this extreme example of misuse of alternative processes runs contrary to the goals of therapeutic justice and could work to undermine the development of legitimate drug courts. The fear is that these examples will become more common as drug courts themselves become more common and as judges with no training or understanding about therapeutic justice, increasingly preside over these courts.