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Episode 261 - Dr. Stephanie Elias Sarabia and Dr. Kathleen Ray: Lessons Learned from Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Policy: Educating Students on Alternative Models

Monday, April 08, 2019, 9:35:46 AM

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In this episode, our guests Dr. Stephanie Elias Sarabia and Dr. Kathleen Ray describe the Ramapo College study abroad program, and how exposure to Portugal’s system has heightened students understanding of the political, legal, and social context of decriminalization. They provide an overview of Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy, and compare and contrast how the US differs from Portugal in regards to approaching substance abuse. Drs. Elias Sarabia and Ray emphasize the need for social workers to challenge our current belief systems regarding drug addiction and treatment, and provide strategies for educators interested in building an international program.

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Average Rating: 4stars  mental health and drug court models, Tuesday, April 23, 2019

By Sarah :

As a student at the School of Social Work, I was placed at the Erie County Holding Center. Through this experience, I've witnessed in person the ways in which our criminal justice system is essentially designed to fail.
However, I want to discuss a small hope I have for change. In Buffalo's City Court, Judge Robert Russell presides over several specialized courts, including Drug Court and Mental Health Court. This model is a potentially viable alternative that still operates within our current system of criminal justice. Though I would argue that we are far too focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation and/or restorative justice for all crimes, not just drug-related, I think it is perhaps foolish to believe that we will be able to overhaul the entire system immediately. Instead, we need to be creative, and attack it from the inside. This is what Mental Health and Drug Courts are beginning to do.
As discussed, these specialized Courts deal with substance use and mental health as public health issues, to be dealt with by the community, rather than criminal issues, to be dealt with by the justice system. This important distinction reflects, in some ways, Portugal's emphasis on rehabilitation. Not only do these Courts provide ways for defendants to access community services, but they can also serve to divert individuals from the justice system altogether.
Perhaps the most interesting component of these Courts is that they operate within the justice system itself. This may seem counterintuitive, but the fact that a Mental Health Court can survive in our current criminal justice system (let alone our current political climate) speaks to the ability of those working within the system to alter the way they think about substance use and mental health. In this way, through demonstrable results (e.g. reduced recidivism), we might be able to take steps into the future, following Portugal down the road to decriminalization.


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Average Rating: 5stars  double entendre, Sunday, April 21, 2019

By Rich Featherly :

This episode is an exellent explanation of social work values combined with a wonderful lesson in effectively treating addiction. One of the biggest papers I wrote for my recent MSW program was a policy paper on ending prohibition of drugs. The professor's comment was that my paper had presented a "very interesting idea".

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