Before my retirement, I spent 27 years working for the Missouri Department of Corrections, with 20 years as the District Administrator in field operations. In 1997, Circuit Judge Jim Eiffert, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Orr, and I started what is now one of the oldest drug treatment courts in Christian County, Missouri. That program has over 20 years of success. To say this program has been a success is an understatement. I have had the benefit of watching firsthand the transformation of many lives through the drug court process. But what is success in drug treatment court testing? How should it be defined?
Success in Drug Treatment Court Testing
How should we define success of other people? Can it be self-defined by someone or is it applied to someone by others? Our old standby Google says it is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” In this context it would depend on who sets the aim or purpose. Google also led me to a definition offered by the great college basketball coach John Wooden who said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Clearly, Coach Wooden’s definition implies self-determination; the right of someone to define their own destiny.
I was in the people-changing business before working at Tomo. I enjoyed 20 involved in treatment court programs. I started that job specifically to help people change for the better. We spent a lot of time talking about client success.
If you work in the people-changing business then you know that defining success is sort of a moving target. This is especially true when you try to apply some set of criteria across individuals. This is because individuals come from different spots when they enter the “human repair shop”. Some have several years of substance misuse, family breakdown, trauma, lack of education, so on and so forth.
Conversely, others may have lesser problems and their support system is strong. It’s sort of like taking a car to the auto repair shop. For example, if one car has 150,000 miles, rust all over, bad tires and without any maintenance. Comparatively, another car can have only 10,000 miles and only needs a water pump repaired and is under warranty. The older car is going to take a lot of time, a lot of money, several parts and potentially multiple mechanics to fix. In fact, it will never run like a new car again like it once was and I think we understand that. The goal for both auto owners is to have a vehicle that will take them from place to place. Similarly, individuals coming into treatment courts, regardless of the number and breadth of their problems, share a single goal to no longer use harmful substances.
I don’t intend to diminish the very personal and human aspects of the people-changing business by comparing it to automobiles. It is just an analogy. However, when I was a practitioner it frustrated me when other professionals defined success the same for every person, by a limited set of criteria without regard to capacity for attaining them. For example, those criteria might be to: remain clean and sober, attend treatment 3 times per week, complete two drug tests per week, complete community service and pay all of your fees. Some people can do all of that and more. Others may just be able stay clean and sober. That is fine. Both are successful.
Some people enter treatment court programs with 150,000 life miles and a plethora of problems. Others roll in with 10,000 life miles and are under warranty with a solid support structure. Even when successfully discharged from the program the side-by-side comparison of each one is likely to look very different. One person may be 18 months sober, gainfully employed, reunited with their family and even attending college. Conversely, the other person may be sober and that’s about all. It does not make the second person any less successful or the program less effective. They just entered the repair shop with a different number and breadth of problems.
Don’t be lured into the idea that success across individuals has to be exactly the same.
The author of this blog is Kerry Nelson, who serves as an Account Executive on the Business Growth team at Tomo. Kerry worked for the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole for 27 years, with more than 20 years of documented excellence and experience in policy analysis, interpreting and applying Missouri statutes, team leadership, and multi-dimensional investigations. At the same time, he was also a treatment court coordinator, where he and others developed and implemented one of the early drug courts in Missouri. As an Adjunct Professor at Missouri State University, Kerry stays abreast of evidence-based practices in community corrections. Kerry has a Master’s degree focused in Criminal Justice Administration from Missouri State University.