Larry Bembry on Drug Courts
When Larry Bembry first became involved in Drug Court in Essex and Hudson Counties almost a decade ago, he viewed the innovative alternative to incarceration as a means to addressing the criminal activity of people afflicted with substance abuse problems.
“A lot of the offenses they were committing were because of their substance abuse,” Bembry recalls. “I never felt that the criminal justice system was addressing the underlying issue.”
Bembry is convinced, “The Drug Court program has evolved into the success that it is because it is geared directly to addressing the major factors contributing to criminal offenses – addiction and substance abuse.”
Drug Courts target the underlying cause of much of the criminal behavior in society, Bembry says. The criminal justice system historically has focused solely on the criminal activity of substance abusers and not on the underlying causes of that behavior.
Drug Courts, a leader in what is now known as therapeutic jurisprudence, look at substance abuse not just as a criminal matter but also as health and societal matters, such as employment.
“Drug Courts take a holistic approach to treating substance abuse,” Bembry explains. “Substance abuse treatment, intense supervision and creating strong community support systems are some of the tools that Drug Courts use to assist the participants into becoming productive individuals. If we can tackle the underlying substance abuse, we can frequently eliminate the criminal offense that society is responding to.”
After becoming an attorney, Bembry chose not to practice criminal law but instead directed his considerable energies toward representing the interests of his community in ways that he felt would have a greater impact.
Drug Court is a prime example of that positive impact. Bembry says he was drawn to Drug Court for the reasons that the program is successful. “It is not an adversarial approach,” he notes. Instead of the traditional adversarial – and confrontational – approach of criminal courts, Drug Courts require all of the parties to work together to reach a positive outcome.