Drug courts are not THE answer?

The Stranger examines the Drug Policy Alliance’s criticism of drug courts:

“Drug Courts Are Not the Answer,” blares the cover of a 28-page critique released in March by the Drug Policy Alliance. A similar critique, released this year by the Justice Policy Institute, declares that the American system for dealing with drug abuse is “addicted to courts.”

Specifically, the groups claim that drug courts are less effective than community treatment, don’t improve public safety, and are not as cost-effective as people think. “Drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety,” states the Drug Policy Alliance report.

The problem with these critiques: They’re totally wrong, in their conclusions and sometimes in their facts, according to drug court advocates here in King County and around the country.


Dan Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, admits that his group’s report wasn’t based on new research findings or even on a “meta-analysis” of current findings. “We never claimed to undertake any research on drug courts,” he says. He also says his report might not be correct for all drug court programs.

King County and San Francisco, for example, “are rather unique, because those jurisdictions have had really progressive drug policies generally,” Abrahamson says.

So why declare, in sweeping terms, that “Drug Courts Are Not the Answer”?

Abrahamson focuses on the word “the” in his report’s title, saying the word was chosen to convey the idea that drug courts are not the one and only answer nationwide.

But drug court advocates have another theory: Abrahamson’s group and the Justice Policy Institute are interested in attacking drug courts mainly because it helps their ultimate aim—full legalization of drugs.