Ask an Expert: How Can I Change The Justice System?

By Harold Owens 01/05/15
Today's question is on what you can do to change the criminal justice system when it repeatedly fails to treat an addicted loved one.

What can an individual like myself do. My bf was arrested for the 3rd time for robbery to buy drugs. He's a good man sentenced to 17 yrs. Never recd proper care or after care. I am a recovering addict.....4 yrs clean. What can I do if anything to change the justice system, any support groups, new law????? Thanks for your time.

Harold Owens: Hi GF???

I’m pretty confident that your boyfriend’s drug use preceded his entry into the criminal justice system. Because so many of the jailed population are there because of addiction, the enormous amount of money spent on drug related incarceration has forced lawmakers to re-assess their decades-old policy of harsh and long mandatory sentencing guidelines for non- violent drug related crime. 

Unfortunately, your boyfriend was also convicted of two prior drug related crimes for robbery. What if he had instead received the opportunity to enter a substance abuse treatment program with a long aftercare component early on before he got in trouble again? Your boyfriend with three past drug related crimes should have been the kind of high-risk offender that the criminal justice system would intervene with,  before he was sentenced to a lifetime of jails.

For the past 10 years, I have been involved with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). The group was started in 1994 by a group of judges from around the country. Their vision and mission is to reduce the negative social impact of substance abuse, crime, and recidivism by advocating for the growth and funding of Drug Courts throughout the country. 

What’s important here is that there is an organization out there composed of judges, Congressional and community leaders who actually get it. They understand the necessity of creating a vision of a reformed justice system by impacting new public policy and legislation models. West Huddleston is the CEO of NADCP and a dear friend. He introduced me to national political and judicial leaders whom I never would have imagined would have the same passion as I do to help addicts get sober and really change their lives. 

If you are looking to get involved in making a change in the criminal justice system, please look up this organization online: as well as other local drug court programs in your area. There are many ways to help, including introducing yourself to someone who is struggling with not only their sobriety but their freedom and a  possible lifetime of incarceration or death.



Harold Owens is Senior Director of the MusiCares/MAP FUND, the charity arm of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (the GRAMMY organization). He is responsible for the implementation of all aspects of the MusiCares addiction recovery program for artists. Earlier, for three years, he was Program Director of The Exodus Recovery Center. He can be reached at [email protected]  Full Bio.

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