Q&A: Chris Deutsch

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By Dave Baker

Chris Deutsch, Director of Communications for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, based in Washington, DC, works closely with NADCP’s Public Policy Department writing briefs and testimonies to present before Congress, and lobbys state and federal legislators for more funding and support for Drug Court. Deutsch is also responsible for managing the NADCP website and coordinating national outreach incentives to promote the growth and expansion of Drug Courts.

Baker: For those who may not be familiar with Drug Court and the NADCP, what do these organizations do?

Deutsch: The first Drug Court was started in 1989 in Miami, Florida, and the concept at the time was pretty simple: let’s change the way drug addicted offenders are handled in the criminal justice system. What was happening in Florida at the time was a huge explosion of drug use, particularly in crack-cocaine, so the criminal justice system was being flooded by seriously addicted individuals. Judges were seeing the same people come before them, getting sentenced, then shortly after repeating the cycle. The idea was, “What can we do differently?” That’s when Judge Stanley Goldstein got together with prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation, and law enforcement and put together this concept of Drug Court, where drug addicted offenders would be involved in a program that combines accountability, treatment and supervision. The NADCP was founded in 1994 by the early pioneers of the Drug Court movement. That coincided with the 1994 Crime Bill, which established the Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program and led to the growth of these courts nationwide. There were 44 in 1994, ten years later there were over 1600. We represent 27,000 Drug Court professionals.

Baker: Is there a Drug Court in every state?

Deutsch: There is. We’re up to 2600 nationwide. Connecticut has five by our last tally.

Baker: What might set Drug Court apart from other probation or reentry programs? What’s different about how you help client’s rehabilitation?

Deutsch: The crucial difference is that Drug Courts are designed for individuals with a diagnosed substance abuse disorder. They’re rigorous programs that employ strict accountability coupled with treatment. They’re not programs for someone who doesn’t have that clinical addiction; most of the time those folks are better served in alternative programs. These programs are really set aside for people with long criminal histories and long histories of substance abuse. The second major difference is the collaborative approach. Drug Courts are non-adversarial programs. You have a model where there’s a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, law enforcement, case manager, probation, and treatment provider working as a team to develop a response best suited for the individual’s needs. Walk into a Drug Court and it’s vastly different than any other court you’ve been to. The prosecutor and the defense attorney are working together, the judge is speaking directly to the participant; asking them how they’re doing, reviewing their progress, making whatever changes need to be made in their treatment plan to best accommodate them, and then rewarding them for doing well or sanctioning them for not living up to their obligations. Program lasts a minimum of a year and can go up to two or three years and along that time the intensity of court appearances may go down as someone moves through the program. The focus then becomes getting them ready to reengage with society, pick up job training, get them back in school; so when they leave the program they’re not only clean and sober, but equipped with the tools to be successful.

Baker: So this is a very intensive, all-encompassing type of treatment. It’s hardly a vacation from prison.

Deutsch: Not at all. I think in the early days that was some of the concern that people had, that we’re giving them a free ride. Well that’s not the case. They’re extremely intense programs.

Baker: Can you describe in more detail how you help clients dealing with drug addiction? Is this a traditional “12 Steps ” program or do you take more of a progressive approach?

Deutsch: It’s really individualized and based on what the client needs. Part of that might be contingent on the resources available in their community. Drug Courts try to assess the needs of every person and develop an individualized treatment plan. A person may need inpatient treatment for the first few months. They’ll get that. If they do well and are ready for it, they’ll move to outpatient or someone may start an outpatient program. Some communities have thriving 12 Step resources and clients may find that helpful, others will look for alternatives. The individualized approach is really important. Another factor is that we’re using evidenced based approaches to behavior change. With this community, relapse is to be expected – it takes individuals awhile to buy into the program, so to speak. The courts need to be prepared to respond in an evidenced-based fashion. Courts use what we call incentives and sanctions. If someone relapses early in the program that doesn’t mean they’re automatically thrown out, it means the court gets together and talks to the participant to determine what went wrong and what to do to get this person back on track. Behavior wise, courts can sanction a night or two in jail if someone is not complying with treatment. But, if they’re just relapsing because they’re addicts in early recovery, the court usually responds with changing the treatment plan.

Baker: Is the final solution for someone who habitually relapses or continues to be non-compliant prison?

Deutsch: No. A sanction of prison would be for someone who is not complying with the requirements. If you have someone who is meeting with their case manger when they’re supposed to, going to treatment when they’re supposed to, doing what the court is asking but has a relapse, the appropriate response in that situation would not be a jail sanction it would be, “What can we do differently to get this person on track?” If someone thinks they can buck the system, not show up here and there, if they’re lying to their case manager or a judge, a sanction of jail could be used to show them that the court is going to be follow up and hold them accountable, and ensure that they’re following the procedure.

Baker: How would you measure the effectiveness of Drug Court in helping clients combat addiction?

Deutsch: Drug Courts are one of the most researched programs in the criminal justice system. They do reduce drug use. They do reduce recidivism, and they save quite a bit of money for taxpayers. Nationally, we know that 70percentof those who complete Drug Court are not arrested again. We know that Drug Courts reduce crime by about 45percent. We know they save $2.21 for every $1 invested in criminal justice savings. When you factor in more offsets, reduced healthcare utilization, reduced victim compensation, that number jumps to $27 for every $1 invested. You’re taking folks perpetually engaging with the criminal justice system, which means court costs, probation costs, jail costs, when you can take that person and turn them into a productive citizen you’re going to have huge cost savings. The cycle has cost this country so much that every year about $70 billion is spent on corrections annually.

Baker: During your tenure, have any individuals come through Drug Court that were particularly memorable?

Deutsch: It’s amazing. You can go to any Drug Court in the country and you’re going to see truly inspiring stories of people whose lives have been saved by Drug Court. There was a young lady from Illinois who was arrested when she was 18 Didn’t have a long criminal history but was clearly dealing with addiction issues and was on the brink of a life of drugs and crime. [She] went to Drug Court, about a year and a half later graduated from the program, went back to school, graduated from college, went to law school, and then was hired to be the assistant DA in the community where she was arrested. The person who hired her was the DA who originally charged her case – a pretty incredible story. You can look at that on two paths. Had she continued down the path she was on who knows what would have had happened. Instead, she’s back in her community working in the DA’s office. There’s a million stories out there; mothers reunited with their families, fathers reunited with their kids. Drug Courts are now serving veterans. We’ve been hearing a lot of stories of young veterans coming back and dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, getting into what is now called Veterans Treatment Court, getting stabilized and back on track. It’s pretty remarkable.

Baker: Where is the money for Drug Court coming from?

Deutsch: Drug Courts get funding in a lot of different ways. Most Drug Courts get local funding, so that may come from the county or from the state; there is federal funding for Drug Court through what’s called the Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program. Then there is treatment money through the Center For Substance Abuse Treatment. The federal budget that was just passed has allotted $78 million for Drug Courts, so it’s a combination of both. It’s always a challenge to keep Drug Courts front and center in the minds of legislators. We’re constantly down on Capitol Hill pushing and pushing for more Drug Court funding because we have a long way to go before this program is wide enough to reach everyone in need.

Baker: What are some of the initiatives you have in place for 2012 and beyond?

Deutsch: The Drug Court model is being expanded to serve more populations, so we’re pushing for more DWI Courts, more Veterans Treatment Courts, and that happens at a state level and a federal level. We’re really pushing hard on congress to make sure that Drug Courts continue to be championed. And there’s every reason to believe that they will be. I think the future’s really bright for Drug Courts.

Baker: Is there anything you think our readers in Connecticut should know about?

Deutsch: Two things. One is that there was a study out of the Department of Justice a few years ago and it identified that there are 1.2 million individuals in the criminal justice system at any given time who would be eligible for Drug Court but there isn’t a Drug Court within reach. So, Drug Courts are only reaching 10 percent of the eligible population. I would encourage people to get involved, to push their state legislators, to push their governors to invest in Drug Courts. Connecticut has five outstanding Drug Court programs, but I’m sure they could use more and that’s only going to happen with citizens getting involved and calling for them.

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