Equity and Social Justice in Drug Treatment Courts with Judge Karen Freeman Wilson
During this interview from RISE23, hear from Judge Karen Freeman Wilson, President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
During the interview, Judge Freeman Wilson discusses equity and the role of the judge and highlights the importance of access to treatment courts and the impact these courts can have on communities as a whole.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: I am so honored to be here today with Judge Karen Freeman Wilson. Judge Freeman Wilson, if you could please introduce yourself to our audience.
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: My name is Karen Freeman Wilson and I am the Chair of the All Rise Board. I'm also the President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Wonderful. So I know that you are very passionate about equity and social justice. And I know that research shows that communities of color have less access to treatment courts. And, obviously, that's very upsetting.
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: True.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: So why is—I want to explain to our audience why it's so important to make sure that treatment courts are accessible to all people.
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: If you think about the fact that we herald the benefits of treatment court and talk about how they reduce recidivism, how they improve the quality of life for their participants, then when you think about access and the importance of access to treatment courts, it's about making sure that all people have that benefit. That all races, all creeds, all genders have that access to treatment courts, so that they too can enjoy a better quality of life with their children, with their families, and so that, ultimately, society can benefit.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: So I know you have spent your career as a public servant helping the men and women of Indiana for many years and more recently the citizens of Chicago. How has drug treatment courts helped your communities?
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: When I think about the help that communities in Indiana and Illinois—and, really, in other places that I've traveled—have been helped by treatment court, I think about the fact that we have seen more safety: they have become safer communities as a result of treatment court. I think about the fact that they have become more prosperous, because you have people who might not have otherwise been contributing to society there. Whether it is through their work or through their connection with their families, they have been made better by treatment courts.
And you see a more productive justice system as a result of the introduction of treatment courts to those communities. That has certainly been true in Indiana. I presided over one of the first treatment courts in Indiana and that has helped, not just the city of Gary, but the state of Indiana exponentially.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Uh-hmm. As a former judge, in your professional opinion, why are treatment courts so essential to our justice system?
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: When I think about the importance of treatment courts from my perspective as a former judge, it really is about solving problems, which is another acronym for treatment courts, problem-solving courts, and helping people. You know, so often, in the old days of judging, as you know, we were just supposed to apply the evidence and deal with the facts and send people to the next phase of their lives.
But when you start to see, as a judge, the same people over and over again, you know that you have a responsibility to do more. Treatment courts allow you to do that while maintaining the impartiality and maintaining the level of, you know, of judicial independence that you need to do. But at the same time, you're making a difference in the community, you're helping people, and you are providing a ladder for people who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.
KAREN FRIEDMAN: Yeah. How do recovery courts and treatment courts play a role in a individual's recovery from substance use?
JUDGE KAREN FREEMAN WILSON: When you think about the role that treatment courts play in recovery, you have to really think about the end game. What are you trying to achieve? You're trying to achieve, or help a person achieve, drug-free life. And treatment courts provide that intervention. Sometimes it's your spouse or another person in your family, another significant other in your family who says, "If you don't stop doing drugs, I'm going to do this." Sometimes it's your job.
But with treatment courts, it's the court system, it's the team, it's the judge, it's the prosecutor, it's all of the members of the team who say, "If you don't stop doing drugs, if you don't—not just stop doing drugs but go to treatment, use the other supportive opportunities to get your life back—then there are going to be consequences." And so treatment courts provide that intervention that so many people need.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.