Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rough Justice

Drug Court seemed like such a good idea when it came to my little corner of the world.
It took me, and a lot of other people-helper types, by surprise. Delaware County hasn't been known, to put it very mildly, for its enlightened attitudes toward issues of mental health and substance use disorders. But it was a start, right?

The fundamental concept behind Drug Court is that the court acts as a supercharged big brother, empowered to mandate everything from incarceration to rehab, utilizing an in-your-face approach in weekly sessions to make sure that participants are staying on the straight and narrow, as well as compliant with the treatment programs with which they are involved. 

Great idea, isn't it?

Sure, when everything goes smoothly. Which it rarely does in the world of substance use disorders. Then we end up with messes like this:

A 19 year old male is picked up with three of his friends in a parked car, smoking pot. A cop sees one of them throw a blunt out the window, and they are busted. The boy holding the stash gives it up, and the sharp District Attorney realizes that the way the pot is packaged, in little plastic envelopes or "dime bags" means that he can be charged with trafficking, even though the amount is minimal and there is absolutely no indication of any drug dealing going on.

The 19 year old is terrified; a trafficking charge is a felony and carries serious jail time. He doesn't want to go to jail. He pleads guilty to a felony in order to get into drug court and avoid jail time. 

Happy ending?  Not.

Anyone who has worked with young people, knows exactly what I am going to say next. Treatment of young adults is complicated. They struggle, they fail. They take two steps forward and one step back. 

But, you'd figure that a well-trained drug court with a addiction counselor as an advisor would know that and plan accordingly, right?

Wrong. Oh they cut him a couple of breaks, alright. But when that didn't work, the judge decided he had enough, and sent the boy to jail.

To the State Penitentiary at Graterford, for a year and a half.

Six months longer than the District Attorney asked for. 

So, the end result is a boy who is not even legal drinking age is doing a year and a half in a maximum security state prison for smoking pot with his buddies in a parked car.

Enlightened, isn't it?