Trey Anastasio of Phish will be a featured speaker at the 2011 Drug Court Conference taking place in Washington, D.C. next weekend. Back in 2009, Anastasio spoke at a press conference for the 20th anniversary of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) following his successful completion of a drug court program after he was arrested in NY for drug possession and DUI. Anastasio claims that without drug courts, he wouldn't have been able to become sober and he's sharing his story in the hopes of helping others.
Drug courts aim to treat drug abuse as more of a public health issue than a criminal justice issue. It's pretty simple, they send drug addicted people to treatment programs rather than simply locking them up. The NADCP states that nationwide, for every dollar invested in Drug Court the programs save taxpayers up to $3.36 in criminal justice costs. They also claim that 75% of drug court graduates remain arrest free for up to two years.
In comparison to the cost of the "war on drugs" approach, the drug court program clearly has some appeal. But are drug courts really the way to go?
Surprisingly, some of the largest organizations working to treat drug abuse as a public health issue are saying no. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) issued a report titled "Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use" earlier this year. DPA alleges that drug courts aren't actually saving money or reducing incarceration rates because the courts (1) still rely heavily on the criminal justice system and (2) do not distinguish between drug use and abuse. Their report recommends that drug courts be reserved for serious offenses and that criminal penalties for drug possession be removed. The report also cites Portugal's success with reducing drug addiction and abuse and by decriminalizing the use/possession of all drugs and focusing on harm reduction and treatment.
You could say that Trey's experience with the drug courts may even prove DPA's point. He said:
I can tell you that behind bars there was rampant drug use. What's more, the people I met there spent their time blaming judges and lawyers for their circumstances. Not in drug court. In drug court, full responsibility rest with you and you alone.
The point being - drug courts still send people who may have a drug problem into prison. And if prisons are full of people using drugs (says quite a bit about the drug war when we can't even keep drugs out of our prisons, doesn't it?) then what's the point? On the other hand, for those who embrace the "tough-love" theory of treating drug use and abuse, the courts give offenders a clear choice: stay clean or go to jail.
Trey is not the only rock star supporting the NADCP and drug courts. Check out this video featuring Steven Tyler, Slash, Fred Durst (yes, Limp Bizkit), and Jerry Cantrell.