College Drug Courts

"Anyone sitting there?"

Randy Monchick settled into an open seat next to me during lunch on the second day of the drug court conference. Before long, I found myself absorbed in a discussion of his new initiative: an attempt to import the drug court model to college campuses across the country.

It's a nice example of what I would call "problem-solving entrepreneurialism": taking the principles and practices or problem-solving courts and applying them in new settings.

The scale of the drug and alcohol abuse problem is clear, as Randy as his co-facilitator Lisa Miller of Colorado State University pointed out at a workshop session I attended after lunch. There are 1,700 alcohol-related students deaths on college campuses per year, along with 70,000 documented alcohol and drug related sexual assaults. Researchers have found that about 25 percent of college students are frequent binge drinkers, meaning that they regularly have five or more drinks in a two-hour period.

The issue isn't merely that a certain percentage of young adults are (inevitably)experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The issue is environmental: through a mix of permissiveness, peer pressure and a "wink and nod" attitude towards drug and alcohol abuse, college campuses have become laboratories for destructive behavior. As Lisa Miller pointed out, college students abuse drugs and alcohol about twice as often as similarly aged peers not enrolled in school.

Interestingly enough, students regularly over-state the percentage of their peers they believe are abusing drugs and alcohol. Translation: students believe "everyone is doing it," a clear expression of strongly held beliefs about college culture.

Lisa's "Day IV" program, based at Colorado State University, is the first of its kind in the country. Instead of suspending (or kicking out) students who violate the school's code of conduct, they are given a "deferred dismissal" in exchange for following a strict set of program rules, which includes abstinence (enforced through random drug testing) and regular meetings with a team of social workers and a hearing officer. After a minimum of four months participation, the student can be restored to regular status; if they fail to complete the program, they are formally dismissed.

Randy's goal is to export the Day IV approach to college campuses across the country, with support from the Century Council. Two pilot sites (Texas A & M and the University of Nevada) have already been selected, with more on the way.

I asked Lisa and Randy how much impact programs like Day IV can have on a college culture that often pressures students (particularly freshman) to drink. Over time, according to Lisa, she's learned "which fraternities, which academic departments and which residence halls" are having repeated problems. Some of the best sources of information are program graduates, many of whom continue working on a voluntary basis for Day IV. The university can use this information to address problem locations - for example, by threatening to revoke a fraternity's charter unless they agree to major changes.

In my view, it's this type of problem-solving enforcement that offers the most promising approach to the culture problem. To be successful, Day IV and programs like it will have to go beyond addressing individual behavior to addressing an environment that encourages reckless and dangerous behavior. At Colorado State, Day IV has already gotten the attention of the wider student body: Lisa Miller laughably refers to an "I hate Lisa Miller" club on MySpace (a popular internet bulletin board) created by anonymous students.

It's not much different from what we're tying to accomplish at Bronx Community Solutions: addressing behavior that might otherwise be dismissed or minimized, creating a culture of accountability while offering individuals a helping hand.

A final thought: one of the striking things about Day IV is the attempt to apply problem-solving court techniques in a non-court setting. If problem-solving can go to a college campus, where else can it go?


Randy Monchick said…

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and posing some very poignant questions during our discussions. As you mentioned, one major goal of a Back on TRAC program is to be a catalyst for creating or enhancing a culture of accountability on campus. As you know, it is a powerful model with the capability of changing the way higher education intervenes in the lives of substance abusing students.

The Back on TRAC initiative appears to be creating a nice little buzz (so to speak)within Higher Education circles and beyond. We are now actively soliciting Letters of Interest from colleges and universities interested in becoming national demonstration sites (due by July 10). More information can be found at
Anonymous said…
In Athens Ohio, home of Ohio University, the Municipal Court's alcohol diversion program sees approximately 400 cases per year of off campus underage drinking violations. Through their assessment process they have discovered that about 3-5% of these cases have mental health issues; the drinking is used to masks mental health problems. The local Jail Diversion Advisory Board includes a representative from Campus security. Ohio University has recently implemented more stringent policies concerning underage drinking on campus. They are also increasing their cooperation with law enforcement and the courts. They have implemented a social marketing campaign called “The Buzz” ( that provides information about the consequences of binge drinking and underage consumption. It is interesting that the one area students fought and won a concession on involved parental notification. The local papers were "a buzz" with commentary from students suggesting that drinking is a right of passage, and at the same time they should be responsible for themselves and not have their parents notified.

Chris Watler
Center for Court Innovation
Rik Martin said…
I have read your post and tend to lean towards your opinion also, however, there are lots of conflicting opinions online. Do you have any evidence to back this up?Thanks,RD Martinwebmasterdrug abuse clinic
Anonymous said…
Excellent, love it! »
Cheryl said…
Applying the criminal justice system's highly effective drug court model to a campus was the idea of a District Judge in Colorado. The development, application, and evaluation of that model was originally funded by the United States Department of Education (Award #S184H010098) in a three year grant-funded research project directed by Cheryl Asmus. The research in retention, recidivism and tuition-savings to the University resulting from this project is positive, significant and amazing. Most universities have a policy of sanctions resulting from drug and alcohol infractions that range from mandatory counseling to dismissal. The author of this project, Dr. Asmus, wanted to provide a mechanism that would allow those students facing dismissal the opportunity to chose chose to be law abiding. The drug court model facilitates this process through sanctions, treatment and accountability. The school, instead of having their hands tied and "kicking to the curb" an otherwise promising human being on the college track, has the ability to guide them, through education (what they are supposed to do and are good at doing) to stay on that promising track. The bottom line of any of this is to remember that the very few are the cause of the majority of the problems. It is this "very few" that the campus drug court can uniquely address. When a campus has an option, or a mechanism, to truly turn those few back onto a civil and productive path...that is the goal of a drug court. To touch and guide those young lives back to health. As the author of this model I can tell you that it was a fight at many steps. Higher Education did not like the idea of a "court" in their system. COlorado State University fought several principles in the beginning, such as holding court as a "theatre." many others. For anyone out there responsible or capable in any way of working with a campus and their judicial office, I would implore you to look at applying the model to your own campus. Those students that are automatically dismissed can now be given a chance through this mechanism. The name has now been changed to "Back on Trac" and guidance to applying this model can be found at the National Judicial College. It is still "my baby" and I have the firmest belief in it. Try it! Chery Asmus
flash said…
Great info Aubrey . We posted a link to it. Thanks for pulling this together and sharing!