College Drug Courts

Officials at Colorado State University in Fort Collins announced recently that CSU has become the first college in the nation to operate a drug court for students accused of campus drug and alcohol violations.
Officials at Colorado State University in Fort Collins announced last week that CSU has become the first college in the nation to operate a drug court for students accused of campus drug and alcohol violations. The drug court has been in operation since the spring semester, university officials said. The court, funded by a two-year $350,000 grant from the US Department of Education's Safe and Drug Free Schools program, is a pilot program that the Department of Justice is interested in using as a model for college drug courts nationwide, CSU officials told the Rocky Mountain News.

CSU officials portrayed the drug court as a means of pressuring students into drug treatment after they have been caught drinking or using drugs. "This is a crucial time in a student's life, and we're able to catch them at that time," said project director Cheryl Amus. "We can say, 'You're going to get kicked out of school.' We've got a huge ax hanging over their heads," she told the News.

Drug courts have become an increasingly used tool in the criminal justice system, with some 700 operating across the country. In drug courts, offenders are offered the opportunity to submit to treatment and drug testing instead of being sentenced to prison. Offenders typically meet on a regular basis with a judge, prosecutor, public defender, treatment specialist and case manager, and undergo frequent drug testing.

While drug court advocates claim high success rates, those claims are controversial. Critics have attacked drug courts as extending the Orwellian grasp of the "therapeutic state," for polluting the medical treatment of drug addiction with legal coercion, and for failing to identify and cut off abusive programs.

At Colorado State, campus officials will replace criminal justice system officers and on-campus drug treatment will replace private treatment. The CSU program, "Drugs, Alcohol and You (or DAY IV)," will be voluntary, officials said. Students could presumably opt out of the drug court and take their chances with the university's disciplinary system.

"The devil is in the details," said Darrell Rogers, national outreach coordinator for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org). "Are the penalties more likely to increase or decrease?" he asked. "We will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings," he told DRCNet.

A Washington, DC, college student who asked to remain unnamed told DRCNet he, too, needed to know more. "If it's treatment instead of expulsion, that's not so bad. Also, many state universities kick you out of campus housing if you're caught smoking a joint. If the drug court prevents that, with all the disruption it entails, that could be a good thing," he said. "But if there is invasive urine testing, that could raise privacy issues. And there is also the question of whether someone caught smoking a joint needs treatment, even if he's been caught more than once."

CSU dismisses about 200 students each academic year for repeat drug or alcohol violations, said Asmus, most of them freshmen and half of them out-of-state students. Retaining those out-of-state students could save the university $1.2 million per year in lost tuition and fees, she said.

Philip Smith edits DRCNet's Week Online.
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