News / USA

'Hug a Thug' Beats Prison or Probation

Innovative program more successful at rehabbing jailed addicts

Nearly 250 addicts have taken part in Boulder's integrated treatment court since it began in November 2006.
Nearly 250 addicts have taken part in Boulder's integrated treatment court since it began in November 2006.


Shelley Schlender

The need for drugs and alcohol - or the desire for money to buy them - can drive addicts to robbery, domestic violence and other crimes. Many people consider jail time the best way to keep them from committing more offenses. But an innovative program that focuses on addiction recovery is proving more successful than incarceration at rehabilitating addicts and reducing repeat crimes.

At the Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado, Carol Glowinsky sits at her judge's bench dressed in her official black robes. She is speaking with a woman who's been convicted of crimes motivated by her drug and alcohol addiction. But their conversation sounds more like a therapist talking with a client.

Glowinsky praises the woman for getting a job. "One thing we talked about last time was anxiety, and starting a new job is a great thing to focus on." They go on to discuss how the woman is handling the new responsibilities and staying sober.

To avoid jail, the woman has chosen to enroll in the Integrated Treatment Court.

Probation, with a twist

The 15-month program is similar to probation, with drug and sobriety tests as well as addiction counseling. But there is an important difference. Usually, therapists are required to keep their conversations with clients confidential. However, in integrated treatment cases, they speak openly with Glowinsky, probation officers and other members of the team. "It's the heart of the model that you get a full picture," says Glowinsky. "A lot of people with addictions are good at deception and the model doesn't let you get away with it since we all talk every couple of weeks."

Carol Glowinsky is one of several judges in Boulder County, Colorado who is involved in the integrated treatment court program.
Carol Glowinsky is one of several judges in Boulder County, Colorado who is involved in the integrated treatment court program.

This team approach also leads to more supportive courtroom conversations. Glowinsky nods with understanding as the young woman admits that what's keeping her away from drugs is the fear of going back to jail. "Early on," Glowinsky tells her, "having a really concrete thing like jail helps people stay clean."

About a dozen people sit in the courtroom's spectator's section listening. Each is an addict who's been convicted of a crime. Each will have a turn to talk with Judge Glowinsky.

Coddling a criminal?

When Glowinsky wraps up her session with the young woman, she gives her a gift card for movie tickets, a small reward for the woman's progress so far. Recovered addicts say they often cherish these tokens from the judge.

But that sort of incentive makes some law enforcement officers cringe. "They called it 'hug a thug,'" says Deputy District Attorney Debbie Welsh. She prosecutes people accused of crimes and points out that those gifts are being given to people who've been convicted. "Some of them have stolen items from people and owe them restitution. And the thought of handing this person a $20 gift card when they still owe a victim $2000 can really grate on you, at least as an initial reaction."

But as a member of Boulder's 4-year old integrated treatment team, Welsh has become a fan. Compared to standard probation, she says this model is much more successful at helping addicts stay sober, get a job and follow through on paying restitution. And, its graduates are 35 percent less likely to commit another crime, compared to people sentenced to prison or probation.

Success stories

Statistics like that have helped raise interest in this approach. The National Drug Court Institute reports that more than 2,000 U.S. courts follow this model. Worldwide, ten countries now have similar programs.

Here in Boulder, August Turner is one example of how well the integrated treatment court program can work. He was an addict who spent 30 years in and out of jail, until three years ago, when he signed up for the program.

Turner is proud that he has not relapsed. "I owe that to the people that had great faith in me," he says. Turner has paid back $20,000 in restitution he owed for previous crimes. He now holds a full-time job and has become a leader for programs throughout the county that help addicts stay clean and sober. "I am different now," he says with a laugh, "I'm the person that I probably always wanted to be."

Improving lives and bottom lines

Boulder Sheriff Joe Pelle says that, by reducing repeat offenses, the integrated treatment court makes the county safer and it's saved money. He points out that when he became sheriff seven years ago, the jail population was growing at an average of around 4 or 5 percent per year.

"Since we've done integrated treatment court and the mental health program and a number other things, that growth-in-jail rate has stabilized. People are still committing crimes but they're being treated differently. As a result, they tend not to come back as frequently."

He shrugs off criticism that the integrated treatment model is soft on criminals. "Yeah. It might be," he admits. "And maybe that's why it works."

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs