The National Association of Drug Court Professionals called a Drug Policy Alliance report on drug courts "recklessly irresponsible" in a preliminary response released yesterday.

The DPA's report had slammed drug court programs, asserting that research demonstrating their success has been biased and that they can be more punitive than incarceration.

Entitled "Drug Courts Save Time and Money: And for that they are attacked by decriminalizers," the NADCP response alleges that DPA is attacking drug court in an attempt to further its drug legalization agenda.

"For decades, drug decriminalization and legalization advocates took steady aim at the so-called War on Drugs because of its emphasis on mandatory sentencing and incarceration...Drug Courts prove that drug abuse can remain illicit without necessitating a costly and draconian punitive response," the NADCP report states. "We can hold people accountable for their dangerous actions, while at the same time providing them with needed treatment and other services they need to change their lives. So now Drug Courts have become the new bogeyman of the drug decriminalization/legalization movement."

Members of the NADCP were joined by various national legal, behavioral health and anti drug associations in speaking out against the DPA report at Tuesday's congressional hearing presentation, a NADCP press release states.

NADCP argued that DPA based its assertion that drug court causes more arrests on a 1990 article about one drug court in Colorado, and that it ignored research disproving its claim that drug courts discriminate against minorities. Socioeconomic rather than racial factors, in addition to more prevalent use of crack cocaine, caused African Americans to graduate from a Missouri drug court at a lower rate than Caucasians in a study DPA cited, NADCP's response argues. A study done by The Sentencing Project in Washington DC also found  that drug courts actually reduced the sentencing disparities between African American and Caucasian offenders, according to the NADCP response.

Finally, NADCP called DPA "recklessly irresponsible" for distributing their study independently instead of submitting it to a journal that would subject it to peer review.

"There's different kinds of reports out in the world, right," DPA report contributor and Deputy Director Margaret Dooley-Sammulk says of that accusation. "This is a review of the literature - we looked at the full range of impact drug courts have had." 

Dooley-Sammulk tells SFR that NADCP's response was an ad hominem attack that seemed to misunderstand the DPA's report.

"I expected their response to be hostile, even though I firmly believe there are many areas of agreement," Dooley-Sammulk says. "It's as if they're responding to claims we haven't made."

Although titled "Drug Courts Are Not the Answer," DPA's report does not argue that drug court is never an appropriate form of alternative sentencing. DPA objects to sending first-time offenders and people convicted only of drug violations to drug court, but agrees with using drug court as an alternative to prison for repeat offenders who are addicted to drugs and committing crimes against people or property. Dooley-Sammulk tells SFR that there needs to be more options for offenders besides prison and drug court, and it's hoped that policymakers reading DPA's report will recognize that need. Furthermore, drug court policy won't be optimized by treating drug courts as a sacred cow that can't be critiqued, she says.

"To say something shouldn't be criticized is a real red flag for us," Dooley-Sammulk says. "To not even be exposed to critique can only lead to bad policy."

New Mexico Drug Court Coordinator Peter Bochert tells SFR he was surprised to see the DPA report's "broad attack on drug courts" because his agency has worked well with DPA in New Mexico. He notes that New Mexico drug courts focus on high-risk offenders, rather than the first-time offenders DPA argues shouldn't be put in drug court.

Update, 5:10 p.m.

NADCP CEO West Huddleston tells SFR that he doesn't know why DPA would want to find common ground with drug court advocates after attacking them publicly. He says the common beliefs that DPA and drug court advocates hold have been recognized for the past four years, and the report doesn't add to the conversation in that respect.

"[At the hearing] this graduate stood up and said, 'I was in prison for 10 years, I was a homeless prostitute, heroin-addicted...the drug court in Kalamazoo, Michigan took me in and it saved my life. I'm five years clean and sober...I'm healed'," Huddleston says. "The representative from the DPA said, 'I congratulate you on your success, but for every one person that succeeds in drug court, there are 100 who fail and go to prison.' It's that kind of tearing down of drug court with made-up stuff that we just can't stand by and allow to happen."

Dooley-Sammulk tells SFR that DPA never said such a thing, and that Huddleston is mischaracterizing DPA's "position and motives."

According to Huddleston, DPA began criticizing drug court publicly when it lobbied for California Proposition 36, which allowed offenders convicted of drug possession to get drug treatment instead of prison time.

"That was the beginning of what is pretty clearly now a heated debate," Huddleston says. "They just believe that if you give people treatment, they're going to get better. Treatment is critical to get people clean and sober, but most people don't stay in treatment long enough...drug court has a six-fold higher retention rate than just treatment, but DPA doesn't think that's an important aspect."