June 14, 2018

Opioids, justice & mercy: Courts are on the front lines of a lethal crisis

June 2018 ABA Journal

It’s not every day that a criminal defendant hugs a judge. But in courts across the country, these are unusual times.

A judicial embrace is a hard-won moment of congratulations for people with addictions graduating from the Cuyahoga County Drug Court in Cleveland. After more than a year in the diversion program—battling addictions, fighting demons and reclaiming life—hugs and tears are inevitable as participants cross a sobriety threshold most never thought possible.

“It’s been an absolute ride, this drug court,” said one new graduate. “I was always a quitter, and today I choose to be a fighter. If you have the will, you can overcome anything.”

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Professor Ekow Yankah of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law says the changing landscape of addiction has prompted novel responses and new rhetoric. “There’s something weird if you know the joblessness rates in the African-American community, know the history, but when drug addiction hit that community, it was ‘What is wrong with our community; why are you pathological?’ ” Yankah notes. “Whereas in Rust Belt communities, it’s ‘Of course they’re turning to drugs; they don’t have any hope or ambition.’ ”

Read full story in the ABA Journal.