Caroline Cooper on Drug Courts

There may well be no one who is nicer, more committed, or more insightful about drug courts than Caroline Cooper (American University – School of Public Affairs – Justice, Law & Society). She has posted Drug Courts – Just the Beginning: How to Get Other Areas of Public Policy in Sync? Addressing Continuing Collateral Consequences for Drug Offenders on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

This article is an update to an earlier article, prepared in 2003, examining five areas of public policy in the U.S., unconnected to criminal justice, that imposed significant – and generally lifetime – sanctions on drug court graduates regardless of their successful completion of a drug court program and termination from criminal justice supervision. At that time, the extensive research corroborating the effectiveness of drug courts in reducing drug use, recidivism and promoting long term recovery was just beginning to be disseminated, along with scientific findings relating to the neurobiology of addiction, its effects on the brain and cognitive functioning – all confirming that drug use was a generally a symptom of a chronic disease of the brain – far more than a “behavioral” issue and/or moral failing. Given these extensive research findings, as well as over a decade of drug court experience, an update of this article was prepared in 2015, to document progress made in reducing these areas of stigma – come to be subsequently referred to as “collateral consequences” – in light of the tremendous growth of drug courts since the article was first published in 2003, both in the U.S. and abroad, the widely documented effectiveness of these programs in stemming continued drug use and crime, and the growing body of research documenting the neuro-biological and physiological aspects of the disease of addiction for which treatment has proven effective and incarceration in and of itself has been increasingly documented to be counter-effective. 

The expectation, therefore, was that progress in removing stigma associated with addiction would have been significant during this past decade. The results, however, were the opposite. While there has been some progress, it has been slow and spotty, and the situation in 2015 can be characterized by continued stigma – and a wide array of collateral consequences – imposed by multiple sectors of public policy on individuals who have successfully completed drug court programs and which, in many instances, extend for their lifetime. Not only do the major areas of stigma described in the 2003 article continue but, in addition, numerous additional “collateral consequences” that hadn’t formally surfaced in 2003 were identified. Despite the momentum of criminal justice reform underway, collateral consequences imposed by noncriminal justice sectors continues with only spotty signs of abatement.

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