Drug Courts and Diversion Programs in Florida
There are several options and places to go for this in Florida and as an attorney I get asked about them a lot. I decided to cover this subject thoroughly here as a resource for not only my clients but anyone else looking for more information.
Probably the best of all of them is Veteran’s Court, and what’s really interesting is the Veteran’s Court Program was named after a reserve Air Force general from my home area where my head office is located in Okaloosa County. He also had a SPECT brain imaging. The same technology that I’m using he had used before because after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated under a Humvee he was riding in Afghanista, he was severely injured. He was taken to Walter Reed where he spent many months but didn’t get better. Finally, in desperation, they sent him to LSU where they did a SPECT scan, and the doctors said, “No wonder nothing’s worked, take a look at this pattern here, and this is what it should look like over there.”
Hyberbaric Oxygen Therapy
Before you know it, they’re recommending hyperbaric oxygen therapy. From this treatment his mental functioning was restored, his clarity returned mentally, and Judge T. Patterson Maney was able to resume the bench and now presides over the drug court program in Okaloosa County. So I think of all the ones we have, that’s the best. But I look at drug court, and drug court is just an abysmal failure in general. I actually have a slide presentation that I made called The Failure of Drug Court.
Let me tell you why drug court, DUI school and so many of our treatment programs mandated by the government do not work. It’s real simple. This is how they diagnose people: What’s your charge?
The Issues with Drug Court
That’s the defining question. What’s your charge? That determines what kind of treatment they go into which, of course, is always low budget to no budget. There’s a lot of emphasis on accountability and throwing people in jail for non-compliance, yet the most amazing thing to me is the absence of meaningful diagnostic evaluations. If the individuals in charge of Florida’s mental health, drug and substance abuse courts were within the medical profession and they were prescribing the treatment that they prescribe based upon such a negligent and inappropriate diagnostic protocol, they would be kicked out of the medical profession in a heartbeat.
The same is true if they were under the auspices of the regulatory bodies that regulate psychologists and licensed mental health counselors. They would never be allowed to do the type of diagnostics and treatments without being sanctioned quite severely because they’re medically and scientifically unsound. My biggest criticism of state-sponsored programs is the amazing ability Florida has to find money for jails and prisons; yet, when it comes to creating treatment programs that would actually make a significant difference in the quality of every Floridian’s life, what we find, instead, is they’re nickel and diming the very thing we need to be doubling down on.
Where is the Money Going?
Instead, Florida is building a new jail in Okaloosa County, and we’re building onto the jail in Escambia County in my home city of Pensacola. We’re building onto our prisons, and we have lots of money for doubling down on dumb. In other words, we know what doesn’t work. We’re doubling down on dumb, yet we can’t find the money to properly fund the drug court program. The reason I give our drug court program so much grief is because it’s basically a glorified religious 12-step program, and I’m not supposed to say that, of course. I’m supposed to talk about how it’s a big improvement, how it gives addicts the promise of a better future, and they have a wonderful graduation rate that exceeds 80%. Gosh, isn’t that just the most wonderful thing in the world?
Yes, it’s wonderful for the 8 to 12% it probably helps long-term, but I don’t see any five-year studies that have been authorized by the legislature to actually study all of these different programs and follow them for five years. Yee, drug court helps. Mental health counseling in this or that program helps. I’m not interested in some amorphous, non-specific help kind of language. I’m interested in what is the most effective thing we can do when someone comes into the criminal justice system and they’re actually guilty of a crime.
How do we effectively treat that individual so that they can be returned to society and we don’t have to worry about them getting in trouble every few years because we didn’t do a good job the first time they came through the system engaged in negligence. What do we do? We blame the individual who received negligent mental health treatment when they turn up positive on a drug test and throw them in jail. It has the illusion of accountability, yet the reality is that person is using drugs because a part of their brain is out of balance, It is not working correctly, it causes them intense psychic pain, and they’re trying to help alleviate the symptoms. We’re not providing that person with the healthcare that they need to have a healthy brain, yet we expect them to behave as if their brain is perfectly normal, and can weigh consequences and actions as a normal person would weigh them.
This is where the equal protection argument raises its head because somebody, sooner or later, is going to ask, “If we’re treating healthy, normal-brained people differently than people with abnormal unhealthy brains, have we violated the equal protection clause?” That’s a legitimate question. Rather than focusing on that particular issue, though, and trying to create new laws or destroy the existing paradigm, my focus is on the individual patient defendant, one person at a time, and do whatever I can to keep them out of that state-sponsored negligence because it’s not going to help most people.
The only people these state-sponsored programs are going to help are individuals that if we were to do a proper diagnostic evaluation on, the treatment recommendation would say which particular government program is what that person needs. We’re going to get lucky, and people are going to go through the system, be helped and talk about how great drug court is and it works if you work it.
Yet that’s exactly how Florida’s drug court is set up, and you see those religious/political overtones in every aspect of state-sponsored treatment, and that is the problem. We need less politics and more science.
Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is a slightly edited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.
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