Hailed as the most compassionate way for the criminal justice system to deal with addicts, drug courts were designed to balance punishment with rehabilitation. But after 25 years, the verdict is in: Drug courts embolden judges to practice medicine without a license—and they put lives in danger.
When Ellen Sousares learned that her 22-year-old son, Darren, had been arrested in 2014 for felony possession of heroin and diverted into drug court, she wasn’t upset or ashamed. She was overjoyed. Darren had been addicted to heroin for six years. At the time of his arrest, he was living on the street in Colorado, far from her home in California. He’d already overdosed seriously enough to require emergency care at least six times. He had repeatedly tried rehab, but he’d never stayed long enough to get his mental health properly evaluated. Finally, Ellen thought, he’d be forced to get the help he really needed.
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