Addiction Science Symposium Held in Atlanta

Exciting Addiction Science Seminar by Judge Kathlene Gosselin
At the end of October, the National Judicial College, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Community, and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) sponsored a two and a half day seminar, “Judicial Leadership Systems Change Initiative,” in Georgia. Prior to this seminar, I had attended the national addiction science training in September at the National Judicial College. Because of this, I was fortunate to help plan our Georgia session. 

altSeven teams from circuits across Georgia as well as a larger team of state officials crucial to the sentencing process joined together on October 26-28 to learn from national addiction science experts.  The focus of the training was how to effectively sentence defendants with substance abuse issues. We are all aware of the great impact drug courts have on their participants, and the current Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform is recommending their expansion. At the same time, we judges are all too aware that there will still be offenders in front of us with substance abuse issues; unfortunately drug courts cannot take in all such offenders. Therefore, it is critical that we sentence with as much information as possible about the defendant and the options available. Sentencing is one of the very core functions of the judiciary, and I know we all want sentencing to be effective for offenders.
This judicial education opportunity was unique in several ways. First, having a circuit bring a team of their choosing — including the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, probation officers and/or treatment personnel — allowed each team to talk through ways to implement change in their own circuit. Each circuit best knows its current local resources or lack thereof. Second, having a team of state officials allowed us to talk about changes needed on a state level to implement evidence-based sentencing in Georgia. This effort complements the current efforts already being made by all three branches of government through the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
The commitment of time and energy by these state officials over two and a half days showed the excellence in leadership we currently have in Georgia. We had state Representatives, a state Senator, the Director of Probation Operations, the current secretary of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council, a Deputy Executive Director of Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the chair of the Criminal Justice Reform Council, the Director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Director of the Association of Community Service Boards, and the Director of the AOC in attendance. Even the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections (DOC) came for a portion of the time. The state groups and all of the circuit teams came up with an action plan at the end of the conference. The small groups will altcontinue to meet to work on the issues identified in that plan.

One of the significant things we learned was that accurate assessment of whether a defendant is an abuser or an addict is critical to determining an appropriate sentence. We also learned that it is important to have information regarding risk to commit future crimes and that DOC already uses an appropriate tool to determine this risk. We hope to allow judges and prosecutors access to that information earlier in proceedings. We learned about the science of addiction, what evidence-based sentencing was and was not, and that many myths concerning treatment have been disproven by scientific studies. 

It is not new information to any of us on the bench that just using jail or prison for defendants who are addicted to drugs — whether prescription or illegal, or alcohol — does nothing to stem the criminal behavior that accompanies that addiction, unless we address the addiction as well. These sessions were an extremely informative and inspirational step to give those of us in attendance the information we need to help make our sentences more effective for the long term.  I will be working to bring that information to as many of us as want it. 
Judge Kathlene Gosselin, Superior Courts, Northeastern Judicial Circuit, runs the Hall County Mental Health Court.

Check out the full list of attendees here.


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