Drug Court Judge 'Scary Mary' Whips Offenders Into Shape

By McCarton Ackerman 06/10/14

No-nonsense Judge Mary Chrzanowski has earned a reputation as a tough arbitrator who has turned many lives around.

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Scary Mary in action. Photo via YouTube

Detroit-area Judge Mary Chrzanowski has been gaining a reputation for her no-nonsense approach to whipping drug offenders into shape, even earning the nickname of “Scary Mary.”

Chrzanowski was featured on a recent NBC News special, where she was shown barking Judge Judy-style comments at offenders who appeared in her court. “Don’t appease me because I don’t appease real easy,” she snapped at one. She said the “Scary Mary” moniker was coined “from a prisoner who said it to my secretary,” but the tough judge label is one that she relishes.

“I took the law seriously, I take my job seriously and I wanted to be respected as being serious,” she said. “I want them all to think that someone finally cared enough to slap them upside the head and say ‘Wake up!’”

In recent years, drug courts have become the final chance for non-violent drug offenders to stay out of jail. They must undergo intensive counseling, pass frequent drug tests, and meet with judges like Chrzanowski for regular progress reports. Studies have shown that drug court graduates have a 40 percent better chance at staying clean than those go the traditional prison route.

Cory Critchley, 23, entered Scary Mary’s court after being charged with drug possession and has credited her with helping to turn his life around. “It was a daily thing for me. That was the first thought in my head: ‘How am I going to get high today?’” he said.

At a recent progress report, Chrzanowski made it clear to Critchley that “I am not your mother. I’m not your friend. I am your judge. The whole concept of a drug court is to teach you humility, to teach you respect.” And seeing the benefit of drug court firsthand with people like Critchley, she is intent on continuing her work.

“I started to recognize how important treatment is for some people,” she said. “I don’t want to put people in jail. I want to help them through their problems.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.