April 29, 1998
Philadelphia's drug treatment court -1 year old this weekhas been a positive influence on some drug offenders. But the jury is still out on whether it will reduce drug-related crime.
by Mark Naymik
illustrations by Francisco Gutierez
He stayed out late as a young teenager. He attended school infrequently, and when he did go, he went to check out the girls. Eventually, he dropped out and started selling drugs because he wanted money to buy clothes, like sneakers and jackets.
The only responsibility he assumed was for his younger sister. Constantly reminded by his grandmother to "not let anyone touch your sister," he would challenge older boys to a fight if they tried to talk to her.
On this early morning of April 2, 1997 - less than two weeks from his 19th birthday -Allen (not his real name*) is sitting in a wooden pew near the door of Courtroom 10-06, contemplating one of the biggest decisions of his young life.
He has agreed to come here to have his case tried in the first session of Philadelphia's new and experimental drug treatment court, rather than in traditional criminal court.
He was arrested recently for selling two small packets of cocaine to an undercover police officer, a crime that carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Following his arrest, he admitted wanting to quit using drugs.
But his appearance and demeanor give the impression he is in no hurry to become the court's first defendant. His lean, 5-foot-7 frame hangs over his seat. He does not smile and rarely looks up. It is hard to tell he is a boy who once got excited to play football and collect basketball cards.
"We decided as a group that you have to lock people in. If you leave it open-ended, there is no hammer," he says. "You need a big carrot and stick."
The details of his required commitment to treatment court have not been explained to him. His public defender, Mary DeFusco, has had time only to introduce herself, outline the big picture, and promise to get back to him. She is busy meeting other defendants.
In the traditional court system, Allen would be entitled to a hearing and trial, and appeals if he were convicted. Under the unique rules of treatment court, if he fails to stay clean, the judge has total discretion to sentence him up to 10 years. Allen would get no trial, no chance to beat his rap.
As he waits to hear back from the public defender, his mind goes blank. He sees and hears nothing and tumbles into the aisle. He is experiencing an epileptic seizure.
The muffled sound of his fall, similar to a large sack of laundry hitting the floor, catches the court by surprise. The more than two years of planning that led up to this did not include first-aid training for court personnel.
Allen lies on the carpeted floor of Courtroom 10-06 convulsing and bleeding from his head and mouth, unaware of what is happening.
Some people in the courtroom are speechless, some are frozen, others just react, call 911 and rush to Allen's side, discovering that he cut his scalp and bit his tongue during the fall.
As Allen regains consciousness, he becomes confused and violent, pushing the arms of court employees away from his body, oblivious to the fact that these people are here to help him.
Court employees are oblivious to many things about Allen. As he is strapped into a gurney by paramedics and rushed to Jefferson Hospital, they have no idea they have just witnessed Allen's first seizure, or that his father died of one a couple years earlier.
They do not know that during the course of the next 12 months, Allen will be back in this courtroom before them more than 25 times, more than any other drug offender to enter the program.
Public defender Mary DeFusco, a 16-year veteran, could hardly wait for the first session of Philadelphia's drug treatment court. Ever since she sat in a Miami courtroom more than two years earlier and witnessed the proceedings of the country's original drug treatment court, she was looking forward to her day in just such a forum.
Miami's drug treatment court was born in the late 1980s, when a Dade County, FL, prosecutor named Janet Reno sold local authorities on the idea of a special court designed to break the predictable behavior of drug users who committed crimessuch as drug dealing and theftto support their habit.
"Though he was sending people to jail, he didn't want to lock me up. I couldn't understand that for the world. The guy that sent people to jail don't want to send me to jail. That don't make any sense."
If these drug offenders stay drug- and arrest-free for a designated period of time, the charges against them are dropped. If they fail, they are prosecuted for their original crimes.
In Miami, DeFusco watched a woman stand before the drug treatment court and report on her progress by singing a poem about her recovery to the judge. As the woman sang, DeFusco recalls, other defendants waiting in the jury box, their feet shackled, began keeping time to her singing.
"I saw an amazing thing," she says. "To get clients clean and sober is a dream, and I wanted that so bad for my clients."
DeFusco was in Miami with other members of Philadelphia's treatment court planning committee, formed in December 1995. Also on the committee were representatives from both the Common Pleas and Municipal courts, the District Attorney's Office, the city's Health Department and prison system, and a professor from Temple University.
The committee was interested in creating a drug treatment court because Philadelphia courts were being flooded with people committing drug-related crimes. During the previous 10 years, the number of adult drug arrests in the city increased 141 percent. And, as laws changed making the sale of crack a felony, Common Pleas Court, which handles felony cases, was forced to hear new cases that previously were heard in Municipal Court, which disposes of misdemeanor cases only. As a result of the shift, Common Pleas Court drug case dispositions increased 1,526 percent.
(Drug treatment courts should not be confused with traditional "drug courts," which only speed up the drug-case processing by reducing the time between arrest and conviction. They do nothing to address the habitual drug use of some criminals.)
After their trip to Miami, DeFusco and the other committee members began meeting regularly to hammer out the details of Philadelphia's drug treatment court. But creating the parameters around the simple concept was difficult. In essence, the polar opposites of the judicial systemthe public defender and the district attorneyhad to agree on a number of legal issues, like who would qualify for the program and what due-process rights participants would have to sacrifice.
As disagreements arose around these issues, the committee began to meet more often, sometimes five and six times a week. In the end, the committee created a unique drug treatment court, one of the toughest in the country.
Greg Allen is back in Courtroom 10-06 on April 23, less than three weeks after his seizure. His case has not been entered officially into the drug treatment court. He first must stand before Municipal Court Judge Louis J. Presenza and enter his colloquy.
The colloquy is Allen's formal contract with the court stating that he waives his right to trial, and instead, accepts the conditions of the court and any sanctions the judge may impose as a result of missteps during treatment.
DeFusco, his attorney, has explained that if Allen ultimately fails to complete his treatment, he will be adjudicated and sentenced. While the court is designed to allow for drug relapses, it is in the end a do-or-die court for the defendants.
This is a dramatic departure from the country's first court in Miami, and many that followed, which still allow defendants who fail treatment a hearing and trial.
Presenza and the District Attorney's Office believe the do-or-die premise was needed to induce defendants to take their treatment seriously and get clean. They, therefore, lobbied hard for it during the court's initial setup.
"We decided as a group that you have to lock people in. If you leave it open-ended, there is no hammer," he says. "You need a big carrot and stick."
But DeFusco has reservations about whether the high-stakes court is good for Allen. She is unsure whether he can make it through treatment on his own. He is a heavy marijuana smoker and lacks the luxury of a supportive family. His father is dead; his mother is ineffectual, absent and struggling with her own addiction. His only positive influence is his elderly grandmother, who has looked after Allen since he was two.
"The only reason I get high is because there is nothing to do anymore.
Now that we're grown up, it's like everything is so serious.
DeFusco tells Allen he must make a complete commitment to the program and listen to the judge if he plans to stay out of jail.
Had Allen been busted for using cocaine and not attempting to sell it, he would have been charged with simple possession, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
Despite the seriousness of the charge against him, Allen still had the option of entering Philadelphia's drug treatment court. Unlike many of the country's other 255 treatment courts, Philadelphia accepts people who commit felony crimes, as long as the crimes committed are non-violent offenses. This means low-level drug dealers who are substance abusers can enter the program. (Dealers arrested with amounts large enough to qualify for mandatory sentences are not accepted.) Also, unlike other treatment courts, the city's treatment court accepts offenders with up to two prior non-violent arrests. As a result, the open case against Allen did not disqualify him.
Still, DeFusco is considering recommending trial for Allen rather than treatment court. But she cannot shake the look Allen gave her when she first raised the option. "He was nodding. I feel he was saying, 'Here's just another person who doesn't want me,''' she recalls.
DeFusco expresses her reservations to the judge and prosecutor before today's court session begins.
The public defender and prosecutor do not take adversarial roles in this court; they try to work together with the judge on identifying what is best for a potential drug treatment participant. They do not want to set up anyone for failure.
DeFusco recently described the dilemma this way: "The lawyer in me says don't put him in the program. The person says I want to help him. He is breaking my heart."
DeFusco and Allen, however, decide to enter the program, so Allen must enter his colloquy and begin his relationship with the judge.
Despite his slight, distance-runner's build, when Judge Louis J. Presenza climbs the short steps to the bench in Courtroom 10-06, his presence fills the room. This is true, in part, because his silver hair and beard contrast strikingly with his black robe. When he sits, he begins immediately, giving off an air of confidence and control (and at times irritability), acquired from more than 10 years on the bench as a Municipal Court judge. But it is his baritone voice that commands the most attention. Kept in shape from cheering at numerous sporting events, Presenza's voice reveals just enough Philly that defendants know he has been around.
First, if you make it through, you overcome your addiction. That is most important. We will give you the resources to do it. Treatment, housing, employment, whatever it takes.
Second, we will tear up your plea. That means it cannot be used against you again, ever.
And, if you stay clean and arrest-free for a year after graduating from this court, your record will be expunged, forever. That means somebody looking for your record will never find it.
Presenza then asks the defendant a series of questions about his or her understanding of the colloquy.
Do you understand you waive your rights to a hearing and a trial?
Do you understand you will have no appeal?
Do you understand that I can enter your plea against you?
Do you understand you are giving up a fundamental constitutional right that other people in other countries around the world certainly don't have?
Do you understand you are putting your life in my hands?
Defendants are often impatient during the questioning because they have reviewed these questions before with a public defender or private attorney. (A defendant's lack of enthusiasm can make the judge move even more slowly.)
After accepting a defendant's colloquy, Presenza typically launches into a speech that has become a familiar one to court employees, and one that usually draws a smile from defendants.
On your way home, I want you to stop at the drug store and buy a little mirror. Now, I am serious. This mirror is not to tell you how good-looking you are. The mirror is going to tell you if you are doing the right thing, or the wrong thing. The mirror never lies.
I want you to consult this mirror everyday.
If you succeed, you thank yourself. If you fail, you blame yourself.
Allen answers yes to all of the judge's questions, officially making him the fourth person to enter the program.
Allen, like every person considered for treatment court, underwent a drug assessment before entering his colloquy. The assessment identifies the severity and history of a defendant's drug abuse. Drug counselors recommended that Allen participate in intensive outpatient therapy to curb his use of marijuana. So he was ordered to attend several individual and group counseling sessions every week at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health and Retardation Center(JFK). He also is ordered to submit a urine sample once a week.
Defendants are entered into various treatment programs that already have a contract with the health department's Coordinating Office for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CODAAP), which serves the city's poor. These treatment programs provide services ranging from the least restrictive outpatient therapy to residential treatment to methadone maintenance therapy. The city's Health Department has committed to make available these programs to treatment court, which gives the Health Department the treatment funds it receives from the federal government. CODAAP uses money it receives from the other federal grants to make up any shortfalls.
"When you see the change that he made, it is incredible. Unless you are a man who lacks compassion, you have to feel incredible," says Judge Presenzaabout Allen's progress leading up to his 25th court appearance. "We tried a lot of different things until we hit upon the one thing that worked."
During his first couple of weeks of treatment, Allen attends all of his meetings and his urine remains negative for marijuana. His May 7 progress appearance before Presenza is uneventful, the way it is supposed to be.
Typically, defendants appear monthly before Presenza to report on their treatment, but he can bring them to court more frequently as a way to stay on top of their treatment progress. A case worker acting as a liaison between the treatment providers and the court appears with the defendants. This liaison is responsible for compiling a defendant's progress report and urine-sample results and reporting the findings to the judge.
Unlike his role in traditional court, the judge rules on more than evidence; he rules on a defendant's behavior, attitude and sincerity about getting clean. And he has the sole discretion to dish out sanctions.
If, for instance, a defendant misses an appointment with a drug counselor, is said not to be participating in group sessions, or tests positive for drugs, the judge can impose sanctions. Sanctions might require the defendant to sit in the jury box for a day, or write an essay, or spend a day or week in jail.
The judge is usually made aware of a defendant's progress prior to court, so sanction options are often discussed in chambers with the defender and prosecutor, who lobby the judge appropriately.
"When I want to pose a sanction, we discuss them and I'm the heavy. If I hear something different in court [from the defendant], then I'll change my mind."
Following his May 7 appearance in court, Allen falls into old habits, skips three appointments, and tests positive for marijuana. At Allen's May 21 court appearance, Presenza admonishes him for his poor start, but explains that relapse is expected. He lets him off with a warning and orders him to return in a week.
When Presenza receives an unfavorable report on a client, he often drops his file on his desk in disgust, peels his reading glasses from his face, and tilts back his chair. "What's the problem, sir?" the judge will ask. "Don't confuse my patience for kindness."
The drama is usually effective. In some instances, a defendant will confess to having a dirty urine samplea term for testing positive for drugs - before the judge has received his or her test results.
On May 28, Allen enters Courtroom 10-06 and takes his customary seat in the back near the door.
The judge is not going to be pleased by Allen's progress report today. He has missed more meetings, despite the judge's warnings a week earlier. The judge is likely to sentence Allen to a day in jail.
Waiting for his case to be called today, Allen experiences another seizure, passes out, hits the floor, and begins to convulse. (He has not been taking his anti-convulsive medicine, which doctors prescribed for him after his first seizure.) Court personnel once again call the paramedics.
Allen's seizures in court, although dangerous, may have been fortuitous events for the young defendant. As a result of his court seizures, his medical condition is being monitored closely by court personnel, who try to see that he takes his medication. Had he experienced his first seizures outside of court, he might not have received the medical attention and constant follow-up he needs.
"I think it is very possible Allen would have died of a seizure, too, like his father. Treatment court got him properly treated," says veteran public defender Erica Bartlett, who first met Allen on May 28, the day of his second seizure.
Bartlett was in court on that day preparing to take over for DeFusco, who would be taking maternity leave in the coming weeks.
On June 4, when Allen returns to treatment court, his counselors report to the judge that he is still missing appointments and appears bored with treatment. The judge orders Allen to watch a video about the impact of drugs on the brain, and to write an essay on why he gets high.
On June 11, Allen enters the courtroom wearing yellow shortswithout pocketsand a T-shirt. The site of his pocketless shorts alarms public defender DeFusco, who is counting on Allen to read his essay to the judge. She knows the judge will likely sanction Allen if he is not prepared for court. Where is the essay?
But Allen surprises her by reaching into the back of his pants and pulling out a folded sheet of paper. On it is his essay, printed in block letters. He reads it to the courtroom:
"My name is Greg Allen and I'm about to explain the reason I get high. The only reason I get high is because there is nothing to do anymore. I mean, back when we were young, me and my friends used to collect basketball cards, and play football, but now that we're grown up, it's like everything is so serious, so that is one reason why I get high. Sometimes I don't get high, but [when] I'm about to go to a party or I'm just standing around it's boring, I'll buy some marijuana to smoke. I know it's not good for you but it's like everybody's smoking it, sometime you start to drink, that is okay to do it tooback of your mind you know it's wrong. Family problems also plays a big part why I get high. And if you think about it, that's why a lot of kids start. Because they have a strong person in the house, the kid who don't use no drugs.
The courtroom is silent. (Later, the judge requests that copies of Allen's essay be made.)
Despite Allen's sincere presentation of his essay in June, his actions do not improve. He continues to miss many of his appointments in July. The judge is not going to be pleased. And Allen knows this.
Rather than face the judge at his July 30 appearance in court, Allen shows up and then skips out before he is called. When the judge discovers this, he issues a warrant for Allen's arrest.
Allen turns himself in the next day, and the judge orders him to spend a day at the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility, the flagship of the city's prison system located in Northeast Philadelphia. There he must attend a drug counseling session with prisoners who have substance-abuse problems.
Victoria Greene, a social worker at the prison who has monitored the interaction between prisoners and drug treatment participants, says these meetings have an impact on some of Presenza's defendants. She says prisoners often express their anger toward them for messing up in treatment court.
"'I wish I was in your shoes. You have a chance I did not have,'" Greene recalls inmates saying. "'You are on the road, if you don't stop now, you will wind up in here.'"
Greene, who runs regular drug counseling sessions for prisoners, first suggested the idea of mixing treatment court participants and prisoners in counseling. On some days, Greene attends treatment court to report on a defendant's progress. She says that not all drug treatment court participants take their day in jail seriously. "I told the judge one boy wasn't serious. He just smiled during the whole thing making it a joke."
Greene, though, believes there is benefit in visiting the prison, and that the judge should sanction more treatment court participants to the prison.
After Allen ditched court, he heard directly from Assistant District Attorney George Mosee, who heads the DA's narcotics division, and follows the progress of drug treatment defendants. Mosee is District Attorney Lynne Abraham's representative to the program and is the city's major player in the war on drugs. His involvement, say some court observers, speaks to the DA's commitment to the program.
Despite his prosecutorial posture in court, behind the scenes he often advocates for defendants. In an earlier career, the 43-year-old Mosee worked for nine years at Glen Mills School, a home for adjudicated delinquents, where he came to understand the difficulties of reforming young adults.
When Mosee and Allen meet to talk, he reminds him that the court can tolerate some relapses in treatment, but the DA's office will not tolerate a defendant who ignores the court's rules. He reminds Allen he could spend five to 10 years in prison.
Unfortunately, Allen's day in jail and meeting with Mosee do not scare him straight. He is missing appointments and tests positive for marijuana and Xanax, a prescription drug he is popping.
On Sept. 3, Allen is due in court, but he is a no-show and the judge orders him arrested. This time Allen does not turn himself in. He is picked up on Sept. 7, and a few days later sent back to Curran Fromhold, where he stays until Sept. 22.
"It's becoming clear at this time Allen needs more intensive treatment and change of environment," Bartlett recalls about this period.
Presenza has yet to kick any defendants out of the program. But Allen is pushing the limit.
"He was constantly challenging the system. I was close to entering his plea," recalls Presenza. "But I knew he had all this baggage. He had more [family] problems than most. He didn't get re-arrested for drugs, and that was in his favor. He is adolescent and needed help."
During his second stay in the city prison, Allen gets some advice from his older cellmate, who tells him he can turn around his life because he is still young. The cellmate tells Allen, "All you got to do is stop doing what you are doing."
When Allen is released from prison, the court enters him into the Renewal Center, a residential treatment center in Quakertown, PA, where he stays for a month.
"He did very, very well there, and that place was the turning point," recalls Bartlett.
When Allen is released from the Renewal Center, he is not allowed to return to his home in West Philly. Instead, he is assigned to a halfway house run by Straight Incorporated. For the first month, Allen wants to leave, and as a result, refuses to take orders. But under Straight counselors' close watch, Allen adjusts.
Between November 1997 and February 1998, Allen makes his counseling sessions and court dates. His urine comes up clean.
The judge, public defender and prosecutor begin to notice changes. Allen is gaining weight. He is smiling and he is calmer. He is finding joy in cooking for his housemates at Straight, who look forward to Allen's barbecue chicken. Allen receives a key and permission to come and go from group home. He is taking GED classes. He visits his grandmother on weekends.
During Allen's Feb. 9 progress appearance in court, the judge presents him with a ball cap and T-shirt to mark his drug-free status during the last three months.
"I was ready to bury him, but he had three mothers watching over him," the judge announces to the courtroom. (The judge is referring to court administrator DeGregorio, Bartlett and Nafeesah Torpey, a court employee who conducts drug assessments.)
The day also marks Allen's 25th court appearance, a record among participants.
"When I went to treatment court, I said, 'They ain't going to lock me up,' I can get high if I want," Allen tells the City Paper a few days after his 25th court appearance. "I wanted to stop, but the type of environment I am in, there was so much going on. I was thinking getting high was the coolest thing in the world, until the judge said, like, 'Send him to jail.'
"I never had this type of support. I got the chance of a lifetime. I could be locked up right now for the shit I did. Treatment court, man, that worked for me."
Asked if he thinks Mosee is treating him fairly, he says, "Though he was sending people to jail, he didn't want to lock me up. I couldn't understand that for the world. The guy that sent people to jail don't want to send me to jail. That don't make any sense. He wanted to give me a chance."
"Everything he says confirms about him what we believed from the very beginning," says Mosee. "We decided to be tough, and use tough love. We felt that he did a lot of things because we felt that he wanted and needed attention. There was only one person in his life that gave him attention and that was his grandmother. He acted out to get attention."
"I think he liked when the judge yelled at him," says DeGregorio.
"We bring people in more than other court programs. Others would laugh at us."
DeGregorio has grown attached to Allen, referring to him as "my baby" and having committed most of his case history to memory.
"When you see the change that he made, it is incredible. Unless you are a man who lacks compassion, you have to feel incredible," says Presenza about Allen's progress leading up to his 25th court appearance. "We tried a lot of different things until we hit upon the one thing that worked."
Allen, of course, is not out of the woods yet. He will not graduate from the program until he stays drug-free for 12 consecutive months. Then he must remain drug- and arrest-free for another year before his record is expunged.
Allen says he is confident that he will graduate from the program. "I just feel relaxed now. I was real confused at first. Should I run or should I stay?" he says. "Then I got to the point that this is going to work out for me. As long as I don't get high, I don't got to worry about nothing."
Even if he stays clean, he will not likely be the first graduate. Presenza says there is one drug offender in the program who is on track to graduate in May.
But the real impact of the program's ability to reduce crime will not be evident for more than a year, when the graduates' recidivism rates can be compared to those of drug offenders who commit similar crimes, but who did not go through the drug treatment court.
John Goldkamp of Temple University is already compiling the participants' data for the study. Goldkamp, a member of the city's treatment court planning committee, conducted the first formal evaluation of Miami's drug treatment court. In Miami, he found that 35 percent of the program's participants were re-arrested over an 18-month period, compared to a 50-percent re-arrest rate among similar drug offenders who did not go through the program.
The American Bar Association's 1991 study of the same court revealed no statistically significant difference between the recidivism rates of people assigned to the drug court compared to similar defendants processed prior to the implementation of the program.
According to the U.S. Justice Department's Drug Court Clearinghouse, operated by American University, which compiles drug court statistics, recently established drug courts have reported recidivism rates of zero to 20 percent in time frames ranging from six to 18 months.
About Philadelphia's potential for success, Goldkamp says he expects the program to make a difference in reducing crime. But he says a good portion of participants will likely have problems because the court is targeting people who are serious substance abusers.
One example is the case of Dena Washington (not her real name), a woman who lost her children to social services because of her crack addiction. Arrested for selling drugs and admitted into the program despite some reservations, she is proving difficult to help.
"The young lady came in as a zombie," recalls Presenza. "I did not want her in the program because I thought she would not make it. If I don't think somebody is going to make it, I try to talk them out of it. I'd rather see them go through the legal system with all their legal rights intact."
Despite the court's early reservations about her, she made incredible progress. At one point, she stood before the judge and read a poem entitled "The man I love"a veiled reference to the judge himself. In the poem, she described how she believed she was a month away from death, and how much drug treatment court helped her.
"I don't move to tears, but [courtroom employees] were all crying," says Presenza.
But in February, just two days before completing a phase of her residential treatment program, Washington went AWOL on a crack binge.
During her next court appearance, Presenza told her that she had made a mockery of the program. She was in tears. But, at the urging of Bartlett and others, the judge agreed to give her one more chance in another residential treatment program.
"It was very emotional because it was clearly difficult for her to show up," says Bartlett, who today shoulders more than 70 drug treatment cases, managing them like a doctor manages an emergency room, giving attention to the cases that need the most immediate help. "Like with Allen, everybody was so happy about her progress. The fact that she showed up [after going AWOL] is indicative of the progress she has made."
Eighty people have signed a drug treatment court colloquy waiving their rights to a trial, thus putting themselves in the do-or-die situation of graduating. Among the first 80 people to start the program, all are still in treatment but one. (Approximately 600 defendants were identified at their pre-trial hearing for possible admission to drug treatment court. But they either were later assessed as having no drug problem, had other crimes that disqualified them, or they rejected the option.) According to Presenza, roughly 40 percent of current drug treatment participants are Latino. The next largest group is African American (Allen is black). The majority of the participants are males.
In February, Presenza entered a plea against a man in the program who was busted for selling drugs. He has yet to be sentenced.
"I spent three hours reviewing his file and going over my notes, making a list of positives on one side, and negatives on the other to help me decide," says Presenza about the decision to boot the man. "I will do what I have to do."
Presenza says he expects failures, but he believes the program will ultimately prove successful. His definition of success, he says, is a success rate slightly better than the batting average of Ty Cobb, a baseball player who got a base hit only three or four times out of every 10 at-bats. "Think about the three people that we do help," the judge asks. "That is three people helped who otherwise would not have been helped."
Presenza says he is withholding ultimate judgment until Goldkamp's evaluation is completed. "The bottom line is the worst that can happen is that the program didn't work," says Presenza. "If the program doesn't work, then we can say, 'At least we tried.'"
Initially, treatment court was in session only on Wednesdays, but the court has since expanded to two days a week. Presenza says the court will eventually grow to five days a week if funding is found to support the program.
On March 9, drug treatment court is about to start. The pews are filled with defendants waiting to give their progress reports. These people recognize one another, giving nods to people who slide in next to them. The public defender is sorting through her stack of case files, the judge has just taken his seat. Allen's case is the first one called, but he is not here.
If he fails to show up, he will undoubtedly disappoint the court, and perhaps shake its confidence in the program. The court hopes Allen will become a example for other defendants.
"Just hold the case your honor, he's always here," says DeGregorio. A beat later, Allen, wearing an untucked but pressed button-down shirt, walks in and takes a seat in the front.
When court personnel notice Allen, he can't help but smile.
*Public defender Erica Bartlett allowed the City Paper to interview Allen a few days after his 25th appearance in court, on the condition that the paper change his name and not take his photograph. She explained this would allow the court to keep its promise to eliminate any record of Allen's drug use when and if he graduates from drug court. Also, with Allen's permission, DeFusco and Bartlett, Assistant District Attorney Mosee, Judge Presenza and court administrator DeGregorio provided the paper with an oral history of Allen's case file.