The Drug Court of Broward County, in operation for years, has been changing the lives of thousands upon thousands of criminal offenders for the better. Presently under the judgeship of the Honorable Judge Towbin Singer, the drug court of Broward opened in the summer of 1991 under the leadership of the Honorable Robert J. Fogan, who remains extremely active in the Drug Court movement around the country. In fact, now one of hundreds, the Fort Lauderdale Drug Court was the third drug court in the nation, behind Las Vegas and Miami.
The Broward Drug Court remains a treatment court. That is, it focuses on addressing the client’s drug addiction and its underlying causes as an alternative to prison. Program Goals are:
“To intervene with criminal offenders who are charged with the purchase or possession of a controlled substance and other substance abuse related charges, and to offer a one year positive alternative to incarceration. To break the cycle of addiction and criminal justice involvement, a variety of individualized treatment services are utilized to restore the individual as a productive member of society. Treatment goals include abstinence, improved life management skills, improved interpersonal relationships, and involvement in community support groups.”
Statistics show that the Court remains extremely successful in diverting criminal offenders from the “revolving-door” syndrome of returning to incarceration due to active addiction. Not only is recidivism reduced, but lives are being changed for the better, families are being reunited, and mothers are able to care for their babies who are born drug-free. Additionally, government and consequently the taxpayers, are saving money. It costs thousands less to treat an individual than it does to incarcerate the same individual.
It is because of the success of the Broward County Drug Court and others like it, that hundreds of Drug Courts around the nation are currently in operation or in the implementation process.
The Drug Court, unlike the traditional criminal court, utilizes a team approach to working with an individual. The Assistant Public Defenders assigned to the court by Broward County’s Public Defender Gordon Weekes work in cooperation with the Broward Sheriffs Office, Department of Corrections, and the State Attorney’s Office under the judicial leadership of the Honorable Marcia Beach, to intervene on behalf of and treat offenders.
In Fort Lauderdale, the Drug Court evolved into a true diversionary court in which the defendant waives no constitutional rights besides the right to a speedy trial . The defendant enters a plea of not guilty without ever having to admit any culpability whatsoever; enters a Pre-trial Intervention Program whereby he must complete at least one year of intensive outpatient treatment and report to the Department of Corrections for 12 months; and once these requirements are complete, the drug-related charges are dismissed and records can be sealed.
To be eligible for the drug court program, the individual must be an adult 18 years of age or older, with no prior felony convictions, charged with a second or third degree felony as defined in Florida Statute Section 893.13, alleging the purchase or possession for personal use, and not for resale or delivery, of any Controlled substance identified in Florida Statute Section 893.033 and other substance abuse related charges. Other substance abuse related charges have included obtaining a controlled substance by fraud; possession of a prescriptive drug without a valid prescription; solicitation to deliver a Chapter 893 controlled substance; and tampering with evidence involving a controlled substance under Chapter 893.
Offenders are screened for possible participation in drug court as soon as possible after their arrest, when they may be most motivated to admit to the seriousness of their crime and addiction. They are referred immediately to a multi-phased out-patient treatment program entailing multiple weekly (often daily) contacts for counseling, therapy and education; frequent urinalysis, frequent status hearings before Judge Beach (bi-weekly or 30 day at first); and a rehabilitation program entailing vocational, educational, family, medical, and other support services. The program recognizes that relapse can be a normal part of the recovery process, and the individual is strictly monitored for more intensive treatment in a residential program when necessary. Graduated sanctions ranging from electronic monitor or daily court appearance, or both, to incarceration are used for client treatment incentives and safety.
The drug court of Broward County has certainly proven itself to be better alternative to incarceration. It continues to remain a success and a solution. Recidivism has remained at less than 4% for graduates of the program. Restrictive eligibility continues to remain a difficulty, as so many other offenders, and ultimately the community as a whole, would be best served by participation in the drug court treatment program. The office strives to expand the eligibility requirements so that it can include offenses that are not specifically drug offenses, but are committed out of the need to support a drug addiction or while under the influence of a controlled substance. Additionally, an offender with prior felony convictions could be given this opportunity as well. In short, we must recognize a greater need to utilize a solution with six years of success , rather than to continue to perpetuate the problem in so many other areas of the criminal justice system. We need to enlarge our understanding that human beings make mistakes, and a lot of the time these mistakes are beyond the ability of human control; and that there is a solution once we come together with increased willingness to make this world a better place.