March 29, 2011

Drug Court Gone Wrong

By Cynthia Alkon

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.

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Comments

  • I agree. I listened to the NPR program. Afterwards, I GOOGLED Amanda Williams. I am perplexed as to how she has not been prosecuted for what are numerous, egrecious violations of the law. What does it take in the state of Georgia for its BAR joined by the authorities to take action against Judge Williams.

    The accounts of the teenager who spent more than five years in prison for $100.00 of forged checks caused me to ask if the the story was a place in Georgia or a place in a Third World country.

    Good judges, and there are many, have a great moral compass along with respect for the law. Judge Williams has neither.

  • Therapeutic Jurisprudence is the therothetical basis for drug courts and TJ’s founders support them. The Georgia tragedy had to do with one bad judge and the defense counsel not doing their job. Dru courts that follow the Ten Key Components have due process, great results and save lives. I’ve studied and worked in drug courts over 20 years. See: http://www.allrise.org

  • Cynthia Alkon says:

    I agree that drug courts can and do have wonderful results. Unfortunately this example in Georgia seems to represents a complete break down in the system. When there is one bad judge it is not just defense attorneys who should do something, but where were the local proscutors? If this report is accurate, it seems this situation went on for years with no on in the legal community stepping in to raise appropriate objections and there seems to have been no calls for investigation and disciplinary action. This example illustrates the need to not only make sure that all those running drug courts understand the principles of therapeutic justice but also that the lawyers don’t sit quietly by and stop doing their jobs. And, in this instance, as they didn’t have to worry about individual clients being penalized, it seems to me that prosecutors were in the best position to take strong action to correct what appear to be serious injustices.

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