History of Treatment Courts with Judge Bill Meyer
During this interview from RISE23, hear from Judge Bill Meyer, Senior Judicial Fellow with the National Drug Court Institute and former Denver (Colorado) District Court judge.
During the interview, Judge Meyer speaks to the improvements and the evolution of treatment courts over the last 30 years, as well as how the Bureau of Justice Assistance was a part of the evolution. Judge Meyer also discussed how treatment courts provide individuals with the tools and support they need to make change.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Hi, everyone. I am here today with Judge Bill Meyer. Bill, I would love for you to introduce yourself to our audience.
JUDGE BILL MEYER: I'm Bill Meyer. I'm from Denver, Colorado. I was on the Denver District Court bench, which is trial court of general jurisdiction, from 1984 to 2000. Part of that time, I sat as a drug court judge. We had, at that point in time and probably now even, the largest drug court in the country with about 2,400 participants . . .
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow.
JUDGE BILL MEYER: . . . multi-track. I left the bench in 2000, but kept involved in the drug court field as a Senior Judicial Fellow for the National Drug Court Institute. I am now with a group of 25 other judges who do arbitration and mediation.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow. Amazing. So I know that you were the first presiding judge of the Denver Drug Court. So I was wondering what have you seen as the improvements and the evolution of drug courts over the past 30 years?
JUDGE BILL MEYER: As I think about that question, it's really remarkable how far the field has come in the last 30 years. First, the organization—then NADCP, now All Rise—was created in 1995. The drug court key components were published by BJA in January of 1997. In about 1999, the All Rise Organization put on the road the Drug Court Planning Initiative, where it was a structured planning, funded by BJA, of how to start a drug court.
Shortly thereafter, we delved very much in the science, brought on Doug Marlow as a—Dr. Doug Marlow as a consultant, and did trainings, beginning about 2001, 2002, all over the country—once again funded by BJA—on the appropriate use of sanctions and incentives. From there, we moved on to the Drug Court Benchbook that covered a wide variety of topics in assisting judges in running a drug court. The standards, developed shortly thereafter, in nine—let's see, it would have been 2013 and 2015—the first two sets of standards, which are now being redone.
But those are some of the milestones over the 30-year history.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: That's amazing. Now, I know in my court, you know, you weren't just thrown into becoming a drug treatment court judge. Usually, it's something that you ask for and that you lobbied for and that you felt passionate about. So what drew you to becoming a drug treatment court judge?
JUDGE BILL MEYER: I think I was like many of the initial drug court judges. Albert Einstein says insanity is keep on doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What we were seeing is individuals coming into a court with a substance abuse problem that start out on probation. That wouldn't work out. They would move into community corrections. That wouldn't work out, and they'd walk away from community corrections. Then they have a escape charge on them. They end up in the same penitentiary five years later, see the very same person with the very same problem. So it was really trying to do something different with this population to see if we could assist them with their substance abuse issues.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. So now that you're retired, you still are involved, right? You're here. So what keeps you involved in this work?
JUDGE BILL MEYER: What keeps me involved in this work is the fact that our first conference, we might have had fifty to a hundred people. Now, we have . . .
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wow. Wow.
JUDGE BILL MEYER: . . . 7,400 people at this conference. It's the passion, the commitment of the individuals that are in the field and that we're making a difference in people's lives. I think, yesterday, at the opening session, it was noted that over a million and a half lives have been saved by the folks who work in drug court. And it's stimulating, it's exciting, and the field is evolving as we learn more and more about the science and what works.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: I know that you've done some writing about alternative dispute resolutions. Why are these resolutions important to both the community and to individuals?
JUDGE BILL MEYER: Yeah, I look at that in two ways. One of them is kind of on the civil side. Right now, I'm involved in alternative dispute resolution. Courts are expensive, they are traumatic for the individuals that are involved, and they take a long time for the resolution of problems. Mediation, arbitration, other ways of resolving disputes are something that's much less harmful on the individual as they go through it. And a resolution where the person gets to participate into what happens in the future is something that's much more likely to be abided by. So on the civil side, alternative dispute resolution is a great assistance to the legal community and the community at large.
With regard to alternatives in the court system such as drug courts and other problem-solving courts, you know, I think that if you look at, say, sanctions. Sanctions are in the eyes of the behaver. And for some individuals, you're not going to change their behavior by putting them in jail. You're going to change their behavior by giving them the tools and the support they need so they have the ability to make the changes they need in their lives. So drug courts give people the opportunity to do that.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: That's amazing. It's true. I've seen it myself. Why do you think that treatment courts are so essential for providing justice in communities nationwide?
JUDGE BILL MEYER: Well, candidly, traditional courts were not doing the job. We saw this circle of incarceration that I described earlier. And drug treatment courts and other problem-solving courts marshal a variety of resources, including treatment, housing, employment, and put them altogether and provide them to the individuals who need that type of support, whereas traditional courts are not equipped to do that.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.