Tag Archives: Drug Court

‘Problem Solving’ Courts: America’s Answer to its Law and (Dis) Order?

For a few days at the end of January, I got to go to New York City for the sixth annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. It was an honor to represent the Kitsap Sun and the good news is it gave me lots of new ideas for how to better cover criminal justice in our area.

This year’s theme was “Law and Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice.”

I was among 26 journalists from around the country that submitted a project and was awarded a chance to come to New York to hear from some of the most accomplished judges, prosecutors, police, corrections officials in the nation.

One of the best speakers was the symposium’s first: Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the New York state court of appeals. Lippman has done much work promoting “problem solving” courts. I immediately thought of Kitsap County’s drug court.

I wonder if Lippman would say we could go further in this arena.

There are more than 180 drug courts in New York and he said 57,000 offenders have gone through them, giving those a chance to “get clean and avoid jail and prison,” he said.

Lippman said problem solving courts, which include domestic violence and veterans courts, have saved the state two million days of incarceration. For more about his discussion, click here.

I’ll blog about other experiences from New York that have stuck with me in the coming weeks and months.

Drug Court Graduate: ‘The Real Test is To Keep Rising’

A new piece of artwork at the Kitsap County Juvenile Department particularly struck me. Its creator is a graduate of the Individualized Treatment Court, which I was at the complex to write about. I wanted to share it, along with its artist’s commentary. The teen behind it shall remain nameless, unless he ever chooses to reveal himself.

Here’s his commentary, which is a powerful portrait of recovery:

“This is Not a drawing.

This is a Representation of how I rose from the ashes. How I walked away from a destructive path I led. I caused pain not only to myself but to my loved ones. A Phoenix rises again as I did and represents my fiery passion to change; to become anew. The Rising flames represent my metamorphosis; my becoming the Phoenix. Of equal importance to becoming the Phoenix is the past I left: the past I look back to learn from is nothing more than ashes in the wake. In the ashes you’ll see a car door and a muffler representing my near-death experience from being negligent while in control of a vehicle. I survived but my truck did not follow the same fate. The razor blade represents my experiences with cocaine as does the pope represent my experiences with pot. The Handcuffs represent the obvious arrests and being incarcerated in and out of jail over a good portion of my life.

Individualized Treatment Court really helped me deal with some serious issues I had in my life. I did not see my problems or how unhealthy I was and had much to learn. Just because I have risen from where I once was does not mean I am done; in reality it has just begun. It took my a long time to get where I am and so easily it can all be taken away due to something of my influence or course of action. The real test is not to rise from the ashes or stay risen. The real test is to keep rising and keep growing and eventually teach others what lessons I have learned. That is the true gift of knowledge.”

Read more about problem solving courts here.

Followup: ‘Spice’ Under Radar, But Certainly Not Unknown in Kitsap

After writing a story Tuesday about a new brand of “fake weed” substances that are surfacing around the country, I got a tip that Kitsap County’s juvenile drug court staff has also encountered this stuff.

“Spice,” also known as “K2,” and other monikers, got on their radars in late 2009. Two Bremerton teens participating in the drug court were presenting staff with a bit of a puzzle.

“Their (urinalysis tests) were coming up clean,” said drug court probation officer Carrie Prater, who monitors 20 to 30 kids a time through the program. “But their behaviors were that they were using.”

According to the DEA, these products are synthetic marijuana. An herb or spice is sprayed with a chemical that, when smoked like real marijuana, gives a similar high. The products are sold as a potpourri or incense.

Prater said the teens had entered the drug court for using substances unrelated to “Spice.” But one of the teens ordered some from Europe online, she said. He was pulled over while driving and an officer found it.

“We couldn’t even sanction them for it because it wasn’t in the contract yet,” she said.

That has since changed — the drug court contract now says participants can’t take substances that are counterproductive to the treatment process, she said. The Navy, too, has already banned it.

The teen admitted to having used Spice after he was pulled over and found with some. One other teen has also admitted to using it.

Both also told Prater something disturbing: that they’d experienced withdrawals — one of headaches and nausea, the other of anxiety and heart palpitations — when they stopped using it.

Stories from around the country (here’s a couple) confirm these chemicals can have bizarre — and perhaps damaging — effects on the body. The DEA is still studying these compounds, and they have a ways to go before we truly know what their long term effects are.

Early reports of products “made it sound like it was actually safer than marijuana,” Prater said. “When you hear their side effects, it’s definitely not.”

Followup: John Wayne Houston Returns to his Roots

John Houston is finally home. Working as a prevention intervention specialist in Renton schools, the 56-year-old is back in the place he grew up, according to a story by Adam McFadden in the Renton Reporter.

His life, as those who regularly read our paper know, took one heck of a detour.

I met Houston in late 2005 as part of a series on Bremerton’s high violent crime rate. Houston had lived for more than a decade on the streets of Bremerton, using, abusing and selling crack cocaine. Houston never believed he’d get out of that violent and helpless underworld.

But arrested by Bremerton police in 2004, he set out to change his life of addiction, one that held him for about 36 years. It wasn’t easy, but through Kitsap County Drug Court, he got on stable footing and set his sights on a new path — helping young people whose lives teetered on the verge of drug addiction like his. He graduated with an associate’s degree from Olympic College in 2008.

He’s since held jobs in Kitsap, Island County and finally, Renton, with the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

He still sends me — and several others blessed to know his amazing transition — a weekly email about his life. Recently he wrote about his time in Bremerton, and how it’s important to reflect on both the good days and the bad.

“I just remember waking up in the woods, soaked, hungry and hopeless. Just like those blue skies and greenness of the trees, I remember the ugliness of where my addiction took me. Just like with the skies and the trees, I must remember the ugliness in order for me to never return there again. Thank you for your support and I love you.”