Volume 18, Number 5
July/August 2001

Integrating Treatment into the Justice System

By Martha W. Barnett

We have made giant strides in our awareness and understanding of the true nature of addiction, whether it is to alcohol or other substances. Substance abuse crosses all socioeconomic lines and often hides behind imposing fronts of respectability, claiming professionals, homemakers, and children alike.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases of denial. Often those afflicted are the last to realize or acknowledge their predicament and get the help that is now widely available. Millions remain trapped in a downward spiral of dependency and addiction that eventually will destroy their lives and many of those around them. The tragedy, however, is that the justice system cannot solve the problem if it continues to address substance abuse as if it were a crime rather than a public health issue.

The American Bar Association has been working diligently to integrate substance abuse and addiction treatment into the judicial system. The ABA supports the Unified Family Court movement, which combines all the essential elements of traditional family and juvenile courts into one entity and contains other resources, such as social services, critical to the resolution of a family's problems. Where drug-related criminal offenses are concerned, a defendant might be given the opportunity to choose a "family drug court" rather than a normal trial. These courts offer substance abusers intensive drug treatment, as well as a range of support services for family members.

Substance abuse and addiction frequently begin at an early age. Three million teenagers nationwide are confirmed to have an alcohol problem, and more than 100,000 preteens are known to engage regularly in binge drinking. The ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse is actively involved in a new national public-private partnership, "Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free," to educate the public about early alcohol use by children between nine and 15 years of age. The "Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free" has engaged governors' spouses around the country to participate in a range of activities that will raise awareness and encourage coalition-building among civic and corporate groups.

Finally, the ABA is aware and concerned that this disease affects the legal profession. Reports now estimate that while 10 percent of the general population has problems with alcohol abuse, anywhere from15 to 18 percent of lawyers battle the same problem. Since 1987, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has engaged in education, prevention, and assistance efforts to help lawyers better understand and deal with substance abuse.

I am pleased to see this issue of GPSolo dedicated to this most important subject. The following pages provide valuable information-not only on alcohol and substance abuse but also on other addictions and stress-related afflictions. As counselors, we can use our skills and training to identify addictions and assist those in crisis. As members of the legal community, we must support innovative approaches that integrate effective and appropriate treatment into the justice system culture.

Martha W. Barnett is the president of the American Bar Association.

The author of this article has granted permission for reproduction of the text of this article for classroom use in an institution of higher learning and for use by not-for-profit organizations, provided that such use is for informational, non-commercial purposes only and any reproduction of the article or portion thereof acknowledges original publication in this issue of GPSolo, citing volume, issue, and date, and includes the title of the article, the name of the author, and the legend "Reprinted by permission of the American Bar Association."

Back to Top