DRUG DIVERSION COURT
Rain City Rotary, the new evening Rotary club in Shoreline (Thursdays, 6:15 p.m. at Barlee’s, www.raincityrotary.org) took 100 doughnuts to Presiding on the ninth floor of the downtown Seattle courthouse. Presiding is a gigantic courtroom. Around 200 gathered there to celebrate drug diversion court graduation. I think we brought too few doughnuts. The audience heard twenty-seven graduates speak, tales of failure and redemption. Judges St. Claire or Inveen introduced each, with obvious personal knowledge. Many stories of hope and gratitude moved me.
Drug diversion court addresses the systemic futility of imprisoning addicts. Incarcerating drug abusers imposes cold turkey withdrawal in the company of offenders far more corrupt. Jail becomes an academy of addiction with a faculty of felons. Hardened recidivists mentor newbies, herding their stampede over moral precipices. Prisoners learn ugly lessons. Once released, they re-offend. So whirls the revolving door of drug justice.
Drug diversion court offers an alternative for some. People who commit relatively minor drug possession or delivery offenses, or the crimes that support these habits financially, can opt into diversion. Divertees suffer the direct supervision of a superior court judge and drug rehab counselors. Tough love abounds. Rules are plain and vigorously enforced. Noncompliance reaps days in jail. Many divertees drop out; they are sentenced on their original charges. Divertees may well spend more time in jail than the drop outs. But divertees get treatment and support. Graduates get their criminal charges dismissed. A significant fraction abandons drug world and joins the rest of us, struggling along, mostly sober.
A few influential King County Superior Court judges oppose drug diversion court. Budgets squeeze tightly. Diversion costs money up front, and innovatively conjoins social services with judicial administration. It is a rule of government that any program conjoining tax dollars and change attracts opposition. American justice, true to its medieval English roots, aims at retribution, not rehabilitation. King County’s naysaying judges reason that drug diversion has no part in the judiciary’s mandated role. And, they note, budget limitations make drug diversion inexpedient. Theirs is a narrow, hidebound conception born of another century, another continent. They are wrong.
Though American courts do mete out justice, those same courts are charged to deliver equity, fairness tailored to individual circumstances. An irked W. Somerset Maugham (American, 20th century A.D.) said, “The most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency” (The Circle). When treatment is appropriate, failure to deliver treatment is unfair and irresponsible. Ultimately, incarceration costs more than treatment. Our jails brim. And the human toll is unconscionable. Fund drug diversion court. Please ignore any judge who argues otherwise.