By Ashley Phillips, CFCC Student Fellow 2013-2014
On October 23, 2013 the CFCC Student Fellows visited the Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court. As we entered the court room, the first thing I noticed was a chalkboard with “The A Team” written on it. I soon found out what that meant. When a participant remained drug-free and complied with treatment, his or her name would be written on the chalkboard as a member of “The A Team,” at which point everyone in the courtroom would give a round of applause. I was quite surprised because I had never seen something like this before.
When the clerk called the case, the Drug Court participant came to the “defendant’s” table in front of the Judge’s bench. There was one other person sitting next to the participant, and two people sitting at the “plaintiff’s” table.I noticed the informal nature of the interaction between the Drug Court team members. The Judge was extremely friendly, even cheerful, and her positive attitude resulted in a calm atmosphere that is not usually felt in a court room. One member of the Drug Court team gave an update on how the participant had done since his/her last court appearance. Depending on how long the participant remained drug free and complied with drug treatment, he/she would progress through several levels of the Drug Court Program, and eventually graduate.
As I looked around the courtroom, I saw that most of the participants were middle-aged African American men. I took note of the disparity in ethnicity and gender, which could be linked to Baltimore’s demographics. As I watched the court administrator write the names of participants on the chalkboard, I wondered what the court did about those who did not make it on “The A Team.” We found out that those individuals still received encouragement and support. For example, there were a couple of participants towards the end of the docket who had a negative progress report. I thought the Judge’s demeanor would change from cheerfulness to anger, but, instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see her disappointment and then
The judge reprimanded the participant who had been caught drinking, and then handed down a sanction that did not include jail time. Instead, she ordered this individual to sit in Drug Court for two days. I later asked the judge why she gave that sanction and she explained how boring it was for someone to observe the court for an entire day. However, this sanction served a second purpose: watching Drug Court participants succeed was a demonstration of each individual’s power to change himself or herself. Further, the reprimanded participant had to listen to the many excuses made by people who relapse into drug and/or alcohol abuse and saw for himself or herself how ridiculous they sounded.
When a participant did not get a good progress report, there was no applause. However, there did not seem to be a negative vibe in the courtroom, either. Instead, the judge would focus on the participant’s goals, motivate and encourage them to do better, and remind them that they were there to get help and the court was there to help them.
At the end of our visit, I asked who was on the Drug Court Program team. I learned that they were the Judge, the public defender, the state’s attorney, the agent, the case manager, the clerk, the program director, the bailiffs, and the medical expert. I was surprise to see how everyone worked as a team, when I first walked into the courtroom. In fact, I could not identify each person by his or her questions or demeanor. I left with a good understanding of problem- solving courts and their purpose of rehabilitation instead of punishment.