King County Drug Court Celebrates 20 Years

King County Courthouse, Presiding Courtroom, 9:00 a.m., the second Wednesday of the month…the jury box fills with eager and excited men and women of different ages, races, and backgrounds all filled with a sense of accomplishment.

Judge Cheryl B. Carey.  Chief MRJC Judge and Drug Court - Kent

Judge Cheryl B. Carey. Chief MRJC Judge and Drug Court – Kent

Proud children, spouses, significant others, mothers, fathers, grandparents, counselors, and attorneys gather as spectators in the benches.

Everyone is waiting for the King County Drug Court judges to emerge from chambers and preside over a remarkable event – an event marking the completion of a minimum 11-month demanding and sometimes grueling program, the dismissal of felony charges, and the beginning of a profoundly different lifestyle.

Welcome to King County Drug Diversion Court graduation.

During the past 20 years, this scene has played out for 2,023 drug court graduates, thousands of family members and supporters, and 10 King County Superior Court Judges. The program, the King County Drug Diversion Court, started in 1994, celebrates 20 years of operation in August 2014.

To truly appreciate what a major departure drug court was from business as usual, one must only recall the climate in 1994. The wisdom of the ‘War on Drugs’ had yet to be truly challenged. Jail and prison for drug offenders was the norm. In King County, a visionary group of justice professionals led by the late Prosecutor Norm Maleng and then King County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Martinez formed an exploratory committee to search for a better approach.

The committee decided to develop a drug diversion court. At that time there were only 11 other so called ‘drug courts’ in the country.

A June 7, 1994 letter to the King County Council transmitted the final plan for implementing the King County Drug Diversion Court Demonstration Project. The letter notes that “the project places King County among a handful of counties across the country which are experimenting with this innovative approach combining prevention, treatment and accountability.” The letter was signed by Executive Gary Locke, Presiding Judge Anne Ellington, and Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng.

The program was placed under the Department of Judicial Administration where it continues to reside. Today there are 2,840 Drug Courts in operation in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

The King County Drug Court continues to develop and refine its approaches, incorporating findings from 20 years of research conducted at the state and national level. Drug Court is evidence-based and cost effective.

A July 2013 report by the Research and Data Analysis Division of the Washington State Department Of Social and Health Services compared 1,671 adults admitted to formally established drug courts in Washington (including 470 from King County Drug Court) to a statistically matched comparison group of 1,671 adults. Reductions in crime observed in the analysis translated into a net benefit to taxpayers and society of approximately $22,000 per participant or $4.00 for every $1.00 invested.1

King County Drug Court will host a celebration marking 20 years of operation on October 14, 2014, at 3:30 p.m. in the Presiding Courtroom, E942, King County Courthouse.

1Mayfield, Jim (2013) Crime and Treatment Outcomes of Adult Defendants Admitted to Drug Courts, the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account.

(Reprinted from the King County Superior Court / Department of Judicial Administration Newsletter, Third Quarter 2014)