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March 25, 2011

Very Tough Love

A drug court program that we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.

On April 15, 2011, Ira Glass responded to a press release issued by Judge Williams' lawyer. On April 12, we posted a clarification and a correction regarding this story. November 10, it was announced that Georgia's Judicial Qualifications Commission had filed 12 charges of misconduct against Judge Williams. December 19, it was reported that Judge Williams will step down from the benchDownload a transcript for this show.

Part One

Ira reports from Glynn County Georgia on Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams and how she runs the drug courts in Glynn, Camden and Wayne counties. We hear the story of Lindsey Dills, who forges two checks on her parents' checking account when she's 17, one for $40 and one for $60, and ends up in drug court for five and a half years, including 14 months behind bars, and then she serves another five years after that—six months of it in Arrendale State Prison, the other four and a half on probation. The average drug court program in the U.S. lasts 15 months. But one main way that Judge Williams' drug court is different from most is how punitive it is. Such long jail sentences are contrary to the philosophy of drug court, as well as the guidelines of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. For violating drug court rules, Lindsey not only does jail terms of 51 days, 90 days and 104 days, Judge Williams sends her on what she calls an "indefinite sentence," where she did not specify when Lindsey would get out. (30 minutes)

Part Two

We hear about how Brandi Byrd and many other offenders end up in Judge Williams' drug court. One reason drug courts were created was to save money by incarcerating fewer people. But in Judge Williams' program, people like Brandi end up in drug court—at a cost of $350 per month—who would've simply gotten probation in most other Georgia counties. When offenders like Brandi are kicked out of the program—and half of participants in Judge Williams' drug court program don't successfully complete it—they go into detention, at a cost of $17,000 per year. Brandi did two years.

We also hear how one model drug court participant, Charlie McCullough, was treated by Judge Williams. (25 minutes)
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