Monday, October 21, 2013

Problem-Solving Courts: A Look Into Maryland’s Drug Treatment Courts

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?


  1. I agree with your statement that law school focuses on the adversarial process rather than alternatives such as problem solving courts. I am really happy to be in this course and learn about this different approach to legal issues.

    Specifically, the trip to observe drug court in Baltimore City was a great experience. Even though we were in a court room, with a judge, lawyers, bailiffs and a defendant--it did not have a court feel. When everyone in the courtroom applauded the participant in the program for staying clean, you could really see how proud the participant was. Also, the judge's role was so different than the typical court setting. To see a judge encourage the participants and tell them she was proud of them meant a lot to the participants. Additionally, it was amazing to hear the success stories and being able to see the judges and attorneys involved truly believe in the process.

    I had not known about drug treatment court prior to this course. But now learning about drug treatment court and seeing it in action, I think that it is a great tool for courts to use to help people who are addicted to drugs regain control of their lives. I think that problem solving courts are not too easy on defendants and instead think that they are indeed helpful.

    To only lock someone up who is a drug addict does not solve the problem. Addicts are in recovery for the rest of their lives and having a program such as the drug court, helps to ensure that people who are addicts can be redirected in the right direction to begin the life long process of recovery.

  2. I really believe drug treatment courts are a necessity. If a person who is addicted to drugs wants to stop, wants help and is given the appropriate type of treatment the effects are far reaching. Not only are you likely to see an end to the destructive behavior caused by the drug addiction, you will likely see a reduction in crime, restored lives, reunited families, and safer communities.

    With the end of “the war on drugs,” I believe that the government should reallocate money from enforcement to more rehabilitative programs like drug courts. More drug courts should be put within reach of those who suffer from drug addiction. I really think that what makes drug courts work is the close supervision, frequent drug testing, encouragement and the team approach that the drug court administration takes.


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