Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson

Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson joins us to discuss drug courts, Gary making progress and more.

Freeman-Wilson is a former presiding judge for the Gary City Court and spoke about the potential benefit of drug courts at the “Rethinking the War on Drugs” Symposium last week in Chicago. Read an interview with her below.

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Do you believe that we are losing the War on Drugs?

I think it depends on what arena we are in. I think in some respects when you look at people’s attitudes and the fact that people now understand addiction is a disease and not a character flaw, then we’re winning. When it comes to sustainable solutions, then I think we’re still not doing what we could do to address this widespread issue. It’s like having a mixed report card. You have some As, Bs and Cs; and when I was growing up, I could never bring a report card like that home.

In what way were you involved with the symposium?

I was a panelist for a session discussing innovative ideas and concepts in drug policies that are better than sending people to jail.

What are some of those innovative ideas?

Well, drug treatment courts are one of them. If I am an addict and I’m charged, what traditionally happens depending on where I am in process, is it my first offense or not, I may just go to jail, and I may or may not get treatment. In drug courts, addiction has been identified as an underlying problem, so you return to court on a more frequent basis, sometimes even weekly.

In addition to that, there’s an effort to deal with job training and treatment; they assure that the person is compliant to treatment. The judge checks up on that person.

The end result is much more sustainable because if you have someone who is checking up on you, you’re more likely to continue with treatment. The key to effective treatment is to stay in. You not only have a judge who is checking on you, but an entire team, who ensures that you are meeting the court’s requirements. Everyone is working together to ensure success, and if people are successful, then cases can be dismissed and the individual can move on and return to a productive life and really engage in meaningful law-abiding behavior.

Is this concept just used for drug courts?

Another term for it is problem-solving court, but there are juvenile drug courts, DWI courts, and recently mental health and veteran courts, who focus on individuals with mental health issues and only veterans.

Why hasn’t this become a more widely used concept?

It has become much more widely used over the course of time; however, it’s not as widely used because people still think of crime and punishment in the same sentence. If one does something criminally wrong, we immediately think they should be punished. People are less inclined to look at underlying reasons. Those involved in problem-solving courts think of the underlying issues, but then others view it as being soft on crime. But if we don’t ask those questions, we’re continuously spending money to put people in jail and move them through criminal justice system.

If you were in charge of the War on Drugs, what would you do?

I’ve always been one to promote treatment on-demand. You shouldn’t have to get arrested or show evidence of a public problem. If we had treatment on-demand, then you would see a lot less criminal activity among individuals.

What drug, if any, do you believe should be legalized?

I’m neutral on medical marijuana because the research is still being done, but I’m opposed to any other legalization of any other drug. There are some days I think certain alcohol should be prohibited.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

On Feb. 19, Mayor Freeman-Wilson delivered her state of the city address. Read the transcript here or watch it below:


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