Bar News - May 20, 2015
Court News: National Drug Court Expert Makes the Case to Legislators
By: Kristen Senz
The drug court model of alternative sentencing for addicts is backed by more evidence than many medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, said Douglas Marlowe, a psychologist at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
“There’s been more research on drug courts than there has been on any other program in the criminal justice system,” he said.
Marlowe, who came to New Hampshire on April 14 to give a talk for legislators and other justice system stakeholders, talked about the science of addiction, which he says is a neurological disorder that “should be in the same category as Alzheimer’s Disease,” the difference being that with prolonged treatment, drug-addicted people can regain some functioning.
Marlowe stressed to the policymakers in the audience that the brains of addicts simply do not function the same as “normal” brains. When shown a photograph of a heroin addict lying dead in a street with a needle protruding from his arm, non-addicts register disgust and revulsion. Shown the same photograph, addicts become motivated by deep-seated compulsions to get more heroin.
Drug court is an alternative sentencing model that uses graduated sanctions to help addicts modify their behavior over time. Without an accurate diagnosis, however, it is difficult to determine whether someone is in fact chemically addicted to drugs and, in turn, what kind of treatment might work best for them, Marlowe said.
NH Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, a staunch supporter of drug court programs, said she brought Marlowe to speak to “keep drug court on the radar screen and to educate legislators, because they are also the county delegation for each county.”
Strafford and Grafton counties already fund their own drug court programs, and Rockingham County just voted in March to appropriate county funds for drug court.
Critics of drug court argue that it puts judges in a position to serve as mental health professionals. Nadeau says the judges’ role is to motivate. “We’re basically taught to stop using this shaming, humiliating language and to instead continue to motivate them to behave the way we want them to,” she says. “We need to learn to talk to offenders differently than we have in the past.”