Four principles governed the design of the Treatment Application:
1. Better Information Leads to Better Decisions
Accusations of "revolving door justice" are often hurled at courts when they focus more on processing cases than on achieving meaningful outcomes for victims, communities and defendants. In fairness, it is difficult to expect courts to engage in aggressive problem-solving behavior when judges are asked to make critical decisions with extremely limited information at their disposal. For instance, most criminal court judges don't have any information on whether the person appearing before them on a drug-related charges is addicted to drugs, has ever been in treatment or suffers from mental health problems. Yet information like this would make a profound difference when crafting a disposition.
Bringing information into the courtroom at the earliest stage of the court process is a fundamental principle at the Brooklyn Treatment Court. Before a participant appears in Court for the first time, case managers conduct a detailed assessment using the Treatment Court system. The assessment, a complete psycho-social overview which covers 120 questions, helps the case managers determine what drugs the defendant is using, the extent of addiction and the barriers (such as lack of housing, lack of child care, or an immediate health problem) which may undermine the defendant's chance of success in treatment. Case managers use this information to develop a treatment recommendation for the judge. Their recommendation, as well as a summary of the assessment interview, is available to the judge at her computer on the bench.
2. Increased Accountability
Careful monitoring of each participant's attendance in treatment and their drug test results is essential to the Court if the judge is to foster accountability. The Treatment Application provides an easy-to-read, graphic summary of a participants' progress in treatment including detailed information about treatment attendance and drug-test results. The Treatment Application raises the bar of accountability for treatment providers and Court-based case managers. As judges become accustomed to reviewing detailed, information about the progress of participants in treatment, high-quality records become the standard and incomplete information is quickly detected. As a result, staff and treatment programs are encouraged to become more diligent in maintaining records.
3. New Partnerships Require New Tools
As courts take an aggressive, problem-solving approach to addressing drug crimes, they must turn to new partners for help. Drug treatment providers, social service agencies and other criminal justice agencies all have a role to play in the process -- providing treatment, addressing the barriers that participants face in treatment, and ensuring that the criminal justice system speaks with one voice about each participant's treatment plan. In developing these relationships, an accessible, shared method of communication is essential. The Treatment Application is designed to link everyone involved in the process, providing a common mechanism for sharing information.
Like other drug courts, the Brooklyn Treatment Court is an experiment, trying a new approach to justice for offenders addicted to drugs. Carefully evaluating the results of the Treatment Court is critical. The Treatment Court Application provides the data necessary to monitor program results, identify areas that need improvement and broadcast program achievements. Compliance rates with drug treatment and community service, appearance rates, and types of referrals for service can be generated on a regular basis. These ‘snapshots' of the Court help staff gauge what needs fine-tuning. In addition, this information can be used -- in conjunction with more qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews -- to support an evaluation which measures the impact of the Court.