Zerline Hughes, Justice Policy Institute
202.558.7974 x 308  
202.320.1029 (cell)
[email protected]

Tony Newman, Drug Policy Alliance
[email protected]

Drug Court Debate Continues on Capitol Hill

Justice Policy Institute, Drug Policy Alliance call for alternatives to drug court

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the heels of the release of reports by the Justice Policy Institute and Drug Policy Alliance advocating for cost-beneficial alternatives to drug courts and calling for a more public-health centered approach to addressing addiction, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals will host a congressional briefing Thursday, March 31 featuring actor and drug court advocate Martin Sheen.

Last week, JPI and DPA released Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependence on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities and Drug Courts Are Not the Answer: Toward A Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use, respectively, and held joint House and Senate briefings highlighting the organizations’ view that that providing people with alternatives like community-based treatment and public health approaches to substance abuse are more cost-effective and provide greater public safety benefits than involvement in the criminal justice system. Click here to listen to a press teleconference held last week.

In its report, JPI recommends that policymakers and practitioners should:

  • Invest in front-end treatment and services;
  • Implement “real” diversion policies and alternatives to incarceration;
  • Collect better data on drug courts;
  • Focus court treatment programs on those who would have gone to prison; and
  • Evaluate current drug court policies and practices.

The current edition of the “This American Life” broadcast illustrates the harm that can arise from drug court programs, highlighting a Georgia drug court which handed down excessively long sentences and prison terms to people who would have otherwise received minimal or no sentences.

West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals has publicly disagreed with the findings of the reports released by DPA and JPI, yet he is featured in the radio broadcast saying, “Any drug court that relies primarily on jail, or punishment generally, is operating way outside our philosophy and just does not understand addiction.”

“Despite it all, I know that the NADCP, too, is concerned with the impact of drug courts on people,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “When it comes to addressing addiction, we have to focus on outcomes for both people and society.  It is naïve to expect the court system to fix an enormous public health problem like substance abuse, and we shouldn’t rely on it for school issues like truancy or other social problems, either. We want to see justice solutions used for justice problems, like people with a substance abuse problem who have convictions for violent or other serious offenses who would otherwise be prison-bound. Organizations like the NADCP, DPA and JPI have many common goals, and we hope to have the opportunity to pursue these mutual interests in the future.”

For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at 202.558.7974 x 308 or [email protected] or Jason Fenster at 202.558.7974 x306 or [email protected]. To learn about DPA’s report, contact Tony Newman at 646.335.5384 or [email protected].

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promoting policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities.