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Applying CLTL to Drug Courts
by Judge Joseph Reardon (profile)

The Barnstable District Court has had a CLTL program in effect for over nine years. I have been the sole participating judge during this time and speak with some authority based upon empirical observations and consultation with my collegial CLTL facilitators. Our court also has had a substance-abuse program operating since January 2002. This program is called BAND, an acronym that stands for Barnstable Action for New Directions. (I am somewhat put off by the Drug Court label usually applied, as it connotes a message that is unacceptable in the community.)

Our BAND program has been very successful in restoring addicted men and women to the community, thereby closing the "revolving door" to the House of Corrections. All of the members of BAND have extensive records for criminal conduct. These are truly social pariahs of the community because they repeatedly disturb the peace of the community with their conduct while under the influence of their substance of choice.

As a judge, I followed the requirements of law and incarcerated these offenders, which temporarily removed them from any place where they could cause harm. However, I would soon again see them back before me, charged with offenses committed while under the influence of substances. Thus, the analogy to the revolving door. It was apparent that incarceration was not working to change the behavior of these offenders. In 2001, permission was granted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for the creation of Drug Courts, and we seized upon this initiative, completed our mandatory training, and commenced operation.

It occurred to me, both during the course of training and thereafter in actual practice, that the principles and objectives of Drug Court methodology closely resembled that of CLTL. The end objective is to modify behavior, not by threat, punishment, or duress, but rather via a process that makes the offender want to change by presenting a different view of life, one that offers new choices in decision making and lifestyle choices. The next logical step was to integrate the CLTL model with the BAND protocol. This took some time because it was necessary to consult with both the treatment team and probation department members of BAND, as well as the CLTL probation officers and the college facilitator, to arrive at a consensus relative to the many unique issues concerning probationers enrolled in the BAND program.

We decided to conduct our first experimental CLTL class exclusively for BAND probationers in a mixed-gender class. We achieved absolutely remarkable participation from the class, which consisted of twelve BAND probationers, one line Probation Officer (Bill McCormack), one retired Probation Officer (Hank Burke), one BAND Case Manager (Susan Kelly), myself, and our expert Cape Cod Community College English Faculty facilitator, George Albert. We were reluctant to mix the genders, as our prior experience had not been positive. However, we believed that since this group was already gender integrated in BAND, i.e., had familiarity with one another in Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP), attendance at AA/NA, and BAND in-court sessions, mixing gender in a CLTL class would not present a problem. We were correct in our belief, since the first mixed-gender class of BAND probationers was the most successful CLTL class we conducted in our nine-year existence.

The contribution of each participant was at a higher, more intense, and more emotional level than we had previously seen. I attribute this to the BAND programming, in which self-examination and self-honesty are stressed as essential components of recovery. The BAND group members explore with each other the path to recovery and do not let any one member of the group hide behind a false facade of exaggerated ego, prideful bravado, or self-deceit. Everyone learns to speak out in fearless honesty as each member is challenged by the group to participate. Bringing this same level of introspection to the literature we read resulted in a degree of insightfulness not previously found.

The intensity of the involvement of the BAND participants led us to conclude that a mixed-gender class of BAND and regular probationers was worth trying. It also was remarkable because the enhanced level and intensity of the BAND members was contagious, and all of the probationers in this mixed-gender class were challenged by the literature and engaged in discussion that was superior to any we had previously experienced. The men were not intimidated by the women, and neither were the women intimidated or constrained by the presence of the men.

The end result of this experiment was a plus for both the BAND and traditional probation members. I am also very mindful of the upside for us as facilitators, who were rewarded with class participation and insights that we had not previously seen. It had an invigorating effect on us, which renewed our commitment to CLTL. If you have a drug court program you must adopt CLTL as a component of treatment. The rewards are spectacular.

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