A recent article in World magazine profiled Judge Michael Taylor and the Mississippi 14th Circuit’s drug court that he oversees. In “Sober-minded,” Kim Henderson makes the case that “drug courts can use a strict nexus between crime and punishment to offer addicts a chance to see the light.”
Henderson informs us that “the nation’s first drug court convened in Miami-Dade County, Fla., in 1989, and by the turn of the century, similar startups across the country were collectively graduating 17,000 participants a year.” Most drug courts, which are now in every state, “are give-and-take propositions offering nonviolent felony offenders a choice between jail sentences and long-term drug treatment.”
But why should a drug user or drug possessor ever be labeled a felony offender? Why should they have to choose between jail sentences and long-term drug treatment?
Drug courts have completion rates, on average, of 59 percent—“more than triple those achieved by some private treatment facilities.” Judge Taylor believes that the biggest reason for the difference is not “the combination of supervision, screening, and work requirements that drug courts are uniquely positioned to offer,” but that “no private treatment works as well as drug court because no private treatment has a jail.”
But even if the completion rate were 100 percent, why should anyone have the threat of jail hanging over his head because he used “illegal” drugs?
The judge’s “driver” and “drug court coordinator,” John Douglas, sat in unmarked police cars for 10 years “surveilling drug deals.” Douglas “believed God called him to his work as a narcotics agent.”
But why didn’t Officer Douglas spend his time focusing on combating real crimes? Are we to believe that God calls people to violate—often with violence—the personal and property rights of others?
To be eligible for Judge Taylor’s FED-UP (Fostering an End to Drug Use Problems) program, “offenders must obtain his recommendation, as well as one from both the district attorney’s office and the arresting law enforcement agency.” After undergoing “an evaluation to verify addiction,” offenders must “then plead guilty to their crime” and “agree to follow 23 rules, such as paying fines and permitting searches of their homes and vehicles.”
But why is drug addiction not a public health problem instead of a criminal justice problem? And who has the drug user offended? Why should anyone have to plead guilty to a victimless crime? Why should anyone have to follow some arbitrary rules, pay a fine, and have his Fourth Amendment rights trampled on just because he had a bad habit, a vice, and an addiction?
Completion of Judge Taylor’s three-year drug court “takes four phases, each granting increased autonomy as participants learn to manage their recovery.” Participants must pay monthly fees to be enrolled in drug court, and the combination of fines and fees can cost them thousands of dollars.
But why should anyone have to pay a fee every month for three years to have his rights violated and his liberty restricted?
Graduates from drug court programs have their criminal records expunged. The recidivism rate is low—“a Department of Justice study found that 72 percent of drug court graduates have no arrests at the two-year mark.”
But even if 100 percent of drug court graduates were never arrested again, why should anyone be arrested for drug use or possession in the first place? Why should drug use or possession be a crime?
The answers to those questions should be obvious. Although it would certainly be better if those arrested for drug offenses went through a treatment program instead of to jail, no one should ever be arrested for a drug offense in the first place. Drug courts aren’t needed for drug offenders any more than jail cells are. There should be no such thing as a drug offender.
Judge Taylor admits that he “leans libertarian” on some issues, but not on this one: “Not everyone works in Silicon Valley and likes to use a little cocaine now and then. There are people whose lives are devastated by this, whose childhoods were devastated by this.”
But what’s so bad about the libertarian position on drugs? Libertarians believe that there should be no laws at any level of government regarding the buying, selling, growing, processing, transporting, manufacturing, advertising, using, or possessing of any drug for any reason. This doesn’t mean that drugs are good, healthy, or safe. And it doesn’t mean that using drugs isn’t immoral, self-destructive, or financially ruinous. It just means that (1) individuals should decide what risks they are willing to take and what behaviors they are willing to engage in, (2) no behavior should be criminalized unless it violates the personal or property rights of others, and (3) the heavy hand of government is not the solution to any problems resulting from drug abuse.