The odds favor a turnaround for 11 nonviolent drug offenders who graduated last week from Philadelphia Treatment Court, a jail alternative at the forefront of a burgeoning national movement toward “problem-solving courts” that saw 400 such institutions added last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The court has graduated 961 offenders ages 18 to 70 since it began in 1997 – and 86 percent have remained arrest-free for a year and had their records wiped clean. Said White House drug czar John Walters: “These courts have believed in people who have given up on themselves.” In Philadelphia, a maximum of 370 offenders participate in treatment court at any one time because of budget limits.
Louis J. Presenza, president judge of Municipal Court and founding judge of the treatment court, monitors them. He has an arsenal of sanctions and incentives to entice resisters to meet counseling, drug-testing and training requirements. “Quite frankly, they’re manipulative,” he said of offenders. “They lie, they cheat, they steal, and they blame everybody else. Most people relapse.” The treatment regimen, overseen by caseworkers, is designed to last a year. Criminologist Todd Clear of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York said drug courts “offer an enormous new opportunity.” If there is a criticism, he said, it is that they lavish resources on low-level, low-payoff cases when the real innovation in criminal justice needs to focus on serious offenders.