It’s always helpful to humanize the legal system, as it Matthew Schmonsees—Coordinator of the 1st Judicial District Court of Pennsylvania—was an affable and informed representative of Philly’s “Drug Court.”
The approach of Philly’s Drug Court is unique, yet effective; as they employ a year-long diversionary program set on providing a series of recovery resources for first-time offenders claiming nearly an 80 percent graduation rate and a 91% rate of record expungement.
Janet Reno was instrumental in opening up Drug Court in Miami in the late 1980s, while the Philly incarnation emerged in the late 90s. Since 1997, the court has helped nearly 2,300 people, according to Schmonsees.
The courts are overflowing with drug cases, in many cases focused on people suffering from substance abuse disorders. The Philly drug treatment program often sees 200 entrants per year, while those who relapse are provided with some grace periods to re-enter the program. Schmonsees evoked genuine empathy and understanding that this population needs support to successful reintegrate into society, versus starting the recidivism-driven prison cycle.
“For every $1 invested, up to $27 is saved,” Schmonsees said in referring to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals on the economic impact of diversionary programming versus that of incarceration. Even when things make this much sense, it’s a wonder why this level of support isn’t fostered in every market.