Philly’s drug treatment court focuses on positive reinforcement

Matthew Schmonsees said he hopes one day that he can put himself out of business.

Schmonsees, the coordinator for Philadelphia’s Drug Treatment Court, came to our class to discuss how the court is helping some people stay in recovery after being arrested.

The treatment court program in the city started in 1997 and the program’s DUI Treatment Court started in August 2007.

Generally, the structure of the program includes “phases,” or benchmarks as people progress through the program. Being in recovery for 30 days is the first phrase, 90 days is the second and so on.

Benchmarks include making case management meetings and court dates.

“A lot of research has shown that positive reinforcement works better than punishment,” said Schmonsees about the work of the drug treatment court.

The court’s positive treatment includes book bags, prizes and more, but Schmonsees added that sanctions do occur.

The idea of drug treatment court is that people progress and graduate after one year. May is its “big graduation,” but they also celebrate at the end of every month. The May graduation rate is 78 percent, Schmonsees said.

At the end of the graduation, the person’s case is expunged. Schmonsees added that the Philly program is different than other cities.

“We are a pre-sentence diversion program,” he said. “They plead no contest and that plea is set aside by the court and it doesn’t accept the plea. If they graduate the program, charges are dismissed. If they stay out of the system without any charges, that arrest is expunged.”

The alternative to drug court is TCIY — or The Choice is Yours, which focuses on job placement instead of behavioral healthcare. An individual will go through TCIY if he or she is not excepted to drug court.

Schmonsees added that many of the people who come through drug treatment court attempt to go through detox programs in the city, but those programs are overwhelmed.

“People are withdrawing in the waiting room,” said Schmonsees of detox clinics. “At the end of the day, they are turned away and told we have no detox beds. Well, what am i supposed to do? Come back at 8 a.m. What happens next? People go back and use again.”

“It’s really challenging,” he added. “We see that everyday. We see people who were just arrested.”

Something new for drug treatment court is medication-assisted treatment. Many drug treatment courts used to not allow this kind of treatment, but Philadelphia always has.

In 2013, the head of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy put out a statement saying that treatment courts that do not allow medication-assisted treatment will not receive any federal funding.

“They work for the right individual, which finding the right individual can be a challenge,” Schmonsees said.

About the author

Emily Scott

Emily Scott is a junior journalism major and history minor at Temple University. She works as the Features Editor of The Temple News, editing and covering people, places and things around campus and the city. Contact Emily at tuf39703@temple.edu.

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By Emily Scott