By Lauren Kitzmiller, CFCC Student Fellow 2013-2014
This semester our CFCC Student Fellows Program class has learned a lot about different problem-solving courts, how they work, and what methods they use. Gray Barton, Executive Director for the Maryland Office of Problem-Solving Courts, spoke to us about different problem-solving courts that the state has implemented. He spoke specifically about drug treatment court and really explained how these courts are helping criminal defendants with addiction issues. Substance abuse is a serious problem in the United States, and Mr. Barton told us that 59.6% of the prison population are people who have been convicted of drug offenses.
After listening to Mr. Barton’s presentation,and doing a group project specifically on Family Drug Treatment Courts, I realized how important this type of problem-solving court is. Substance abuse is very complex and very difficult to deal with. It is a lifelong battle, and the addict must constantly work toward recovery. Addiction can make people do unimaginable things, such as steal, rob, and even physically harm another human being. With Maryland’s drug treatment courts, the main focus is to keep the person convicted of the crime under frequent supervision. The participant must come to regularly scheduled court reviews to monitor progress, and during the session the individual meets with a judge to discuss goals and treatment.
Along with these scheduled court reviews, there are home checks, frequent/random drug tests, and employment/education verifications. Maryland’s drug courts try to use non-adversarial methods to really help address the root of the problem behavior and give the participant the best chance at recovery. There are many different people who are a part of the participant’s team to ensure support and to provide a variety of perspectives. The focus is not simply punishment but rehabilitation.
I was very impressed with the way that Maryland is dealing with criminal defendants who have substance abuse problems. Without a specialized court, many times these people are referred to treatment centers, do not go through the necessary steps to recover, and commit the same crimes repeatedly. I think that serious intervention is needed in a lot of these cases, and it is important for there to be almost constant supervision at the beginning. Maryland drug treatment courts seem to hold the participant accountable and really work with that individual to recover and understand addiction.
This week our CFCC Student Fellows Program class is taking a field trip to observe a drug court in Baltimore City. I am really looking forward to seeing how this type of problem-solving court works in action. Being in law school, our learning is truly focused on the adversarial process. Learning about these alternative problem-solving approaches has really changed my thinking, and I believe that Maryland’s drug treatment courts will keep people from making the same mistake twice. What do you think about drug treatment courts? Or other problem-solving courts in general? Do you think that problem-solving courts are too “easy” on criminal defendants, or do you see these courts as helpful?