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 Drug courts use the coercive power of the criminal justice system to achieve abstinence and alter criminal behavior through a combination of judicial supervision, treatment, drug testing, incentives, sanctions, and case management. Below is a discussion of 10 essential components for successful drug courts, as identified by the Drug Courts Program Office at the U.S. Department of Justice.
 
 


The mission of drug courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Drug courts offer a compelling choice for individuals whose criminal justice involvement stems from alcohol or drug use (AOD); participation in treatment. In exchange for successful completion of the treatment program, the court may dismiss the original charge, reduce or set aside a sentence, offer some lesser penalty, or offer a combination of these.

Drug courts transform the roles of both criminal justice practitioners and AOD treatment providers. The judge is the central figure in the team effort that focuses on sobriety and accountability as the primary goals. Because the judge takes on the role of trying to keep participants engaged in treatment, providers can effectively focus on developing a therapeutic relationship with the participant. In turn, treatment providers keep the court informed of each participant's progress so that rewards and sanctions can be provided.

Drug courts create an environment with clear and certain rules. The rules are definite, easy to understand, and most important, compliance is within the individual's control. The rules are based on the participant's performance and are measurable. For example, the participant either appears in court, or does not, attends treatment sessions or does not; the drug tests reveal drug use or abstinence. The participant's performance is immediately and directly communicated to the judge, who rewards progress or penalizes noncompliance. A drug court establishes an environment that the participant can understand – a system in which clear choices are presented and individuals are encouraged to take control of their own recovery.

A Drug Court has been defined by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs as having 10 key components:
1. Drug Courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.
2. Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants' due process rights.
3. Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program.
4. Drug Courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
5. Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
6. A coordinated strategy governs drug court response to participants compliance.
7. Ongoing judicial interaction with each drug court participant is essential
8. Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
9. Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective drug court planning, implementation, and operations.
10. Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances drug court effectiveness.

To get more information, please visit the web site of the Drug Courts Program Office, U.S. Department of Justice.

Key Component #1

Drug courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.

Drug courts promote recovery through a coordinated response to offenders dependent on alcohol and other drugs. Realization of these goals requires a team approach, including cooperation and collaboration of the judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation authorities, other corrections personnel, law enforcement, pretrial service agencies, TASC programs, evaluators, an array of local service providers, and the greater community. State-level organizations representing AOD issues, law enforcement and criminal justice, vocational rehabilitation, education, and housing also have important roles to play.

The criminal justice system has the unique ability to influence a person shortly after a significant triggering event such as an arrest, and thus persuade or compel that person to enter and remain in treatment. Research indicates that a person coerced to enter treatment by the criminal justice system is likely to do as well as one who volunteers.(see References at the DCPO web site for citation).

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Key Component #2

Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants' due process rights.

To facilitate an individual's progress in treatment, the prosecutor and defense counsel must shed their traditional adversarial courtroom relationship and work together as a team. Once a defendant is accepted into the drug court program, the team's focus is on the participant's recovery and law-abiding behavior – not on the merits of the pending case.

The responsibility of the prosecuting attorney is to protect the public's safety by ensuring that each candidate is appropriate for the program and complies with all drug court requirements. The responsibility of the defense counsel is to protect the participant's due process rights while encouraging full participation. Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense counsel play important roles in the court's coordinated strategy for responding to noncompliance.

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Key Component #3

Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program.

Arrest can be a traumatic event in a person's life. It creates an immediate crisis and can force substance abusing behavior into the open, making denial difficult. The period immediately after an arrest, or even apprehension for a probation violation, provides a critical window of opportunity for intervening and introducing the value of AOD treatment. Judicial action, taken promptly after arrest, capitalizes on the crisis nature of the arrest and booking process.

Rapid and effective action also increases public confidence in the criminal justice system. Moreover, incorporating AOD concerns into the case disposition can be a key element in strategies to link criminal justice and AOD overall.

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Key Component #4

Drug courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.

In a drug court, the treatment experience begins in the courtroom and continues throughout the participant's drug court involvement. In other words, a drug court is a comprehensive therapeutic experience, only part of which takes place in a designated treatment setting. The therapeutic team (treatment providers, the judge, lawyers, case managers, supervisors, and other program staff ) should maintain frequent, systematic communication to provide timely reporting of participant's progress and to ensure that responses to compliance and noncompliance are swift and coordinated.

While primarily concerned with criminal activity and AOD use, the drug court team also needs to consider co-occurring problems such as mental illness, primary medical problems, HIV and sexually-transmitted diseases, homelessness; basic education deficits, unemployment and poor job preparation; spouse and family troubles–especially domestic violence–and the long-term effects of childhood physical and sexual abuse. If not addressed, these factors will impair an individual's success in treatment and will compromise compliance with program requirements.

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Key Component #5

Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.

Frequent court-ordered AOD testing is essential. An accurate testing program is the most objective and efficient way to establish a framework for accountability and to gauge each participant's progress. Modern technology offers highly reliable testing to determine if an individual has recently used specific drugs. Further, it is commonly recognized that alcohol use frequently contributes to relapse among individuals whose primarily use drugs.

AOD testing results are objective measures of treatment effectiveness, as well as a source of important information for periodic review of treatment progress. AOD testing helps shape the ongoing interaction between the court and each participant. Timely and accurate test results promote frankness and honesty among all parties.

AOD testing is central to the drug court's monitoring of participant compliance. It is both objective and cost-effective. It gives the participant immediate information about his or her own progress, making the participant active and involved in the treatment process rather than a passive recipient of services.

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Key Component #6

A coordinated strategy governs drug court responses to participant's compliance.

An established principle of AOD treatment is that addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. A pattern of decreasing frequency of use before sustained abstinence from alcohol and other drugs is common. Because AOD problems take a long time to develop and because many factors contribute to drug use and dependency, it is rare that an individual ceases AOD use as soon as he or she enrolls in treatment. Even after a period of abstinence, it is common for an individual to occasionally test positive.

Implemented in the early stages of treatment and emphasized throughout, therapeutic strategies aimed at preventing the return to AOD use help participants learn to manage their ambivalence toward recovery, identify situations that stimulate AOD cravings, and develop skills to cope with high-risk situations.

Drug courts establish a coordinated strategy, including a continuum of responses, to persistent drug use and other non-compliant behavior. The criminal justice system representatives and the treatment providers develop a series of complementary, measured responses that will encourage compliance.

Drug courts must reward cooperation as well as respond to non-compliance. There is value in recognizing incremental progress toward the goal, such as showing up at all required court appearances, regularly arriving at the treatment program on time, attending and fully participating in the treatment sessions, cooperating with treatment staff, and submitting to regular AOD testing. Small rewards for incremental success have an important effect on a participant's sense of purpose and accomplishment.

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Key Component #7

Ongoing judicial interaction with each drug court participant is essential.

The judge is the leader of the drug court team, linking participants to AOD treatment and to the criminal justice system. This active, supervising relationship, maintained throughout treatment increases the likelihood that a participant will remain in treatment and improves the chances for sobriety and law-abiding behavior. Ongoing judicial supervision also communicates to participants –often for the first time–that someone in authority cares about them and is closely watching what they do.

Drug courts require judges to step beyond their traditionally independent and objective arbiter roles and develop new expertise. The structure of the drug court allows for early and frequent judicial intervention. A drug court judge must be prepared to encourage appropriate behavior and to discourage and penalize inappropriate behavior. A drug court judge is knowledgeable about treatment methods and their limitations.

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Key Component #8

Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.

An effective drug court program is the result of thorough initial planning, clearly defined goals and an inherent flexibility to make modifications as necessary. The goals of the program should be described concretely and in measurable terms to provide accountability to funding agencies and policymakers.

Evaluation is the institutional process of gathering and analyzing data to measure the accomplishment of the program's long-term goals. A process evaluation appraises progress in meeting operational and administrative goals (e.g., whether treatment services are implemented as intended). An outcome evaluation assesses the extent to which the program is reaching its long-term goals (e.g., reducing criminal recidivism).

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Key Component #9

Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective drug court planning, implementation, and operations.

All drug court staff, not only the court leaders and senior case managers, but also those indirectly involved in the program should be involved in education and training. Interdisciplinary education exposes criminal justice officials to treatment issues , and treatment staff to criminal justice issues. It also develops a shared understanding of the values, goals, and operating procedures of both the treatment and the justice system components.

Judges and court personnel typically need to learn about the nature of AOD problems and the theories and practices supporting specific treatment approaches. Treatment providers typically need to become familiar with criminal justice accountability issues and court operations. All need to understand and comply with drug testing standards and procedures.

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Key Component #10

Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances drug court program effectiveness.

Because of its unique position in the criminal justice system, a drug court is especially well suited to develop coalitions among private community-based organizations, public criminal justice agencies, and AOD treatment delivery systems. Forming such coalitions expands the continuum of services available to drug court participants and informs the community about the drug court concepts.

The drug court is a partnership among organizations – public, private, and community-based – dedicated to a coordinated and cooperative approach to the AOD offender. The drug court fosters system-wide involvement through its commitment to share responsibility and participation of program partners. As part of – and as a leader in – the formation and operation of community partnerships, drug courts can help restore public faith in the criminal justice system.

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