By Ken Kellum
2005 Volume 1 Issue 4
On Friday, May 6th approximately 70 members of 20th Judicial Circuit Drug Court teams attended a Drug Court Symposium cosponsored by SWFAS (Southwest Florida Addiction Services) and FGCU (Florida Gulf Coast University). The symposium featured two outstanding guest speakers, Megan Wheeler (Director of the NDCPI) and Janiece Sigerist (president of NADS).
President, William Merwin of FGCU and Chief Judge Hugh Hayes provided opening remarks for this first time event.
The list of attendees included Chief Judge Hugh D. Hayes, as well as Senior Judge William L. Blackwell and judges Donald E. Pellecchia, Lawrence D. Martin, Margaret O. Steinbeck, Sherra Winesett and James Sloan. Judge Sloan acted as moderator for a panel discussion comprised of judges. Judge Sloan kicked off the discussion by asking the panel of judges questions regarding the role of the judge in drug court and asking them to contrast the traditional court setting with the drug court setting. Afterward, the attendees enjoyed the rare opportunity to "grill" the judges sitting as a panel.
Drs. Brubbs and Zager made a presentation on evaluating Drug Court performance. Their presentation emphasized the importance of collecting performance data to validate what works and does not work in drug court and to measure performance results.
A panel discussion of recent drug court graduates highlighted the symposium. The panel members provided an inside look at drug court through the eyes of a drug user as well as valuable feedback on the drug court process to the attending team members. The symposium concluded with the presentation of drug court completion certificates to six drug court graduates.
Overall the symposium was a great success and a word of thanks goes to the volunteers from DJJ who helped with registration and the College of Professional Studies' Administrative Assistant Beth Schreiber, SWFAS, FGCU and the may other volunteers who contributed time and money to make the symposium a success.
Drug court was started in Dade County, Florida in 1989. In 1994 the re were twelve drug courts in the United States. Today, there are over 1621 operating drug courts in the United States. In the 20th Circuit, drug court operates in all five counties, including adult, juvenile, and dependency drug courts. The success of the drug court system is well documented. Drug court programs costs significantly less than incarceration. President George W. Bush states "drug courts are an effective and cost efficient way to make non-violent drug offenders commit to a rigorous drug treatment program in lieu of prison. By leveraging the coercive power of the criminal justice system, drug courts can alter the behavior of non-violent, low level drug offenders through a combination of judicial supervision, case management, mandatory drug testing and treatment to ensure abstinence from drugs and escalating sanctions". Former president William J. Clinton stated that "three quarters of the growth in the number of federal prison inmates is due to drug crimes. Building new prisons will only go so far. Drug courts and mandatory testing and treatment are effective. I have seen drug courts work. I know they will make a difference."