- The sooner a person with an addiction gets help, the better.
- Treatment may be successful even it it is mandated, as through a
Drug courts serve certain people who have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense that is
either drug-related or committed to support a drug habit. Participants in drug courts may avoid criminal
prosecution or imprisonment in exchange for completing an intensive regimen of treatment and
Clients must participate in needed treatment sessions and submit urine samples that are tested for drugs
on a random weekly basis. Clients also appear frequently in court before the judge on a regular basis to
review their progress in treatment. The judge may administer positive rewards for doing well or negative
sanctions for doing poorly. Examples of rewards may include praise, small gifts and certificates of
recognition. Examples of sanctions may include a verbal scolding, written homework assignments, fines,
community service or even a few days in jail. Successful graduation leads to the ultimate reward: either
the criminal charges are dropped or the sentence is considerably reduced in length or harshness.
Research indicates that clients in drug courts receive more treatment services, closer monitoring and
more certain and immediate consequences for their behaviors than individuals in most other types of
criminal justice programs. They also engage in less drug use during treatment and have lower re-arrest
rates for up to three years after their arrest. Largely because of this success, there are now more than
2,100 drug courts in every state and territory in the United States. There are also more than 1,000 other
types of "problem-solving courts" that are similar to drug courts, but focus on other issues such as driving
while impaired (DWI), mental illness, juvenile delinquency or domestic violence. Unfortunately, despite
their impressive growth, drug courts still serve less than 5-10% of the people who need them, according
to estimates. Nearly two-thirds of local counties do not have a drug court and many that do can handle
only a relatively small capacity.
FIVE THINGS TO ASK ABOUT DRUG COURTS
If you are considering drug court or DWI court for a loved one, there are several questions to ask:
- 1. Is my loved one eligible?
In some jurisdictions, drug courts are only open to individuals charged with simple possession or use of drugs. Other jurisdictions may admit people charged with drug dealing, theft or property crimes, but only if a significant drug problem led to the criminal activity. Individuals charged with violent crimes are rarely eligible.
- 2. How do I access these programs?
The prosecutor makes the initial decision about whether to consider an individual for drug court. The final decision is then made by the judge after reviewing all of the pertinent information, including clinical assessment results and past criminal records. In some counties, all individuals charged with eligible crimes are routinely screened by the prosecution. In others, the matter may need to be specifically brought to the prosecutor's or judge's attention. This requires defense attorneys to be knowledgeable about the available options and how and when to make a request.
- 3. What rights must my loved one give up, and what if my loved one does poorly?
Just like a plea bargain, the client must waive certain rights to participate, such as the right to a trial. He or she must also give consent for treatment-related information to be shared with the court and prosecution, and to be subjected to certain types of sanctions for infractions without the benefit of a full trial or due process hearing. Nonattendance in treatment, continued drug use, or a poor attitude can earn punitive sanctions from the court that gradually increase in magnitude. Eventually, these sanctions can become quite restrictive and may include brief intervals of jail or placement in a residential treatment setting. Failure to complete the program results in sentencing on the original charge and the client might not receive credit for time served in the program. Indeed, he or she might receive a stiffer sentence than would otherwise been have imposed because of the demonstrated inability or unwillingness to improve. It is important to consider this before deciding whether to participate.
- 4. Are all programs created equal?
Like all treatment programs, the quality of care can vary considerably. Some drug courts have a wide array of treatment services available to them, whereas others may have relatively little to offer. This can be a particular challenge in rural or poorer communities. In addition, some drug court judges may be very patient and lenient with clients, whereas others may be unduly harsh. Defense attorneys often have a good sense of the quality of various programs.
- 5. How do I find a drug court in my county?
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) maintains a list of drug courts and other problem-solving courts in every state and territory in the United States as well as a list of primary contact persons for each jurisdiction. For more information, contact Rachel Casebolt at 1-877-507-3229 ext. 23 or 1-703-575-9400 ext. 23. In addition, the BJA Drug Court Clearinghouse at American University maintains a list of drug courts organized by state and county. The web link is http://spa.american.edu/justice/map.php and the clearinghouse can be reached at 1-800-203-2671.