Sunday, January 28, 2007


The Wall Street Journal of Jan. 19 reported at length on a dispute between judges in New Mexico over whether defendants should be sentenced to an addiction “treatment program” founded by a Scientologist and former real-estate developer. One judge doesn’t want his colleagues to sentence inmates to the program, Second Chance, while another is paid “…to convince judges to do just that.”

The issue here has nothing to do with the specifics of this particular program, where “patients” stay a minimum of six months. Rather, what in the world are judges doing making decisions over treatment for the medical problem of drug dependence? How can they consider themselves qualified to determine for any defendant coming before them which program or modality is most appropriate? It's good that they accept the now widespread view that addiction is an illness, but surely diagnosis and therapy are matters that should be left to clinicians, as in every other field of medicine.

And then, of course, there’s the ultimate irony that is fundamental to all “treatment in lieu of prison” approaches: when the therapy and those that provide it fail – i.e., the outcome is less than hoped for – it’s the hapless “patient” who pays the price by being sent to prison.


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