America's new touchy-feely "war on drugs"

Thu Jan 21, 2010 5:49pm EST
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By Nick Carey

KALAMAZOO, Mich (Reuters) - In Stephen Gorsalitz's courtroom, you could be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled into a rehab clinic like the Betty Ford Center.

Gorsalitz patiently listens as defendant Eugenia Jensen tells him she has a steady job at a local restaurant and is working hard to regain custody of her 10-year-old daughter.

After Jensen, 38, announces that she has been drug free for seven months, the court bursts into warm applause.

"I am pleased with your progress," Gorsalitz says. "And I see you managed not to cry this time," he adds with a smile.

This is certainly not what U.S. President Richard Nixon had in mind when he declared a "War on Drugs" in 1971. But four decades and billions of dollars later, this war -- based on law enforcement and a crackdown on production, distribution and consumption -- has produced unspectacular results, at best.

So more and more states have been turning to alternative approaches like drug courts, which target consumption among probationers using a combination of frequent tests, the threat of jail time and plenty of moral encouragement.

And it seems to be working. Over the past 20 years drug courts have cut crime rates and proved far cheaper than prison. They are also expected to be part of a drug strategy report the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is due to issue in February.

"We're going to go with what works best," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more commonly called the Drug Czar. "That includes looking at solutions like drug courts."   Continued...

<p>Handcuffed suspect Gerald Ware (C) watches as Kalamazoo police officers catalog evidence in the midst of the execution of a search warrant for marijuana during a raid in search of illegal drugs in Ware's home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in this November 12, 2009 file picture. REUTERS/John Gress/Files</p>