Key Components of Drug Courts

In 1996, twelve drug-court practitioners and ancillary experts began the process of establishing a set of guidelines upon which drug courts around the country could base their own unique programs. Recognizing the need for cultural and jurisdictional diversity, this group set out to identify the fundamental similarities and standards of the few operational drug courts at that time. What resulted was the publication of "Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components" (4). The following is simply a listing of these 10 key components of a drug court:

1. "Drug courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing." Drug courts serve as a true partnership between drug and alcohol treatment professionals and the court system. The treatment team, which is comprised of all major stakeholders, meets regularly to discuss each participant's progress and to determine incentives, sanctions, and the future direction of the case plan.

2. " Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants' due process rights." All members of the drug-court team operate from the same philosophical basis—that what is in the best interest of both the community and the program participant is for the participant to be drug and alcohol free, working, taking care of family obligations, and not committing new offenses.

3. "Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program." Drug courts are either pre- or post-plea programs. In pre-plea courts, where charges are held until program completion or failure, participants can be enrolled in drug court within a matter of hours or days from the time of their arrest. In post-conviction courts, this process takes longer. However, pre-set eligibility criteria allow persons to plead to the underlying offense and upon completion of drug court, withdraw the plea and either have the charges dismissed or plea to a lesser charge.

4. "Drug courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services." Drug courts bring available resources together in a comprehensive approach that addresses all identified issues supporting or hindering a person's road to recovery. No other system within the criminal justice arena has shown the ability to bring such diverse resources to the table consistently over time. Many communities that had limited resources available to serve their drug court population have developed their own treatment components, which, in turn, have provided greatly needed resources to non-drug court persons in the community.

5. "Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing." Drug testing is the objective measure of participant progress and program effectiveness. This issue will be discussed in greater detail in a later section.

6. "A coordinated strategy governs drug court responses to participant's compliance." A multi-disciplinary team establishes a system of incentives and sanctions for use within the drug-court system. Participants are rewarded when they make progress toward treatment and court goals, and receive graduated sanctions when they fail to comply with the expectations of the drug-court team. The treatment team meets prior to the scheduled status review hearing to discuss participant progress. This case review allows the team to agree on a course of action, ensuring consistency and fairness in the way the court responds to each participant.

7. "Ongoing judicial interaction with each drug court participant is essential." The primary factor that makes drug courts unique and effective is the regular status reviews before a designated drug-court judge. Drug-court judges are knowledgeable in addiction and recovery, and are able to support treatment-team recommendations using the full weight of the court. The drug-court judge serves as the director of the treatment drama as it unfolds in court, not only for the participant speaking to the judge, but also for those in the courtroom observing the interaction.

8. "Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness." Every drug court must have an evaluation program in place to monitor both process and outcome measures. Independent evaluators assist the court in monitoring what is done well and in identifying those areas that need improvement. The only way that a program can ensure that it is achieving its goals and objectives is through the use of a formal evaluation process. Evaluations provide the accountability by which to justify future funding or even keeping a program operational.

9. "Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective drug court planning, implementation, and operations." Individual members of a drug-court team work hard to communicate their needs and expertise to other members of the team. Court personnel become very knowledgeable in areas of addiction and treatment, whereas social service and health care professionals learn about the limitations and requirements of the legal system. Only through learning about each other's world can the team truly function effectively. 10. "Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances drug court effectiveness." Drug courts are truly a community-wide effort assisting offenders in living drug-and crime-free lives. This partnership among all components of the criminal justice system, treatment and social service agencies, the faith community, law enforcement, civic organizations, educational institutions, and vocational programs is what places drug courts in a league of their own when it comes to effective intervention in the cycle of criminal and addictive behavior.

It has become apparent that the synergistic power of all 10 key components is what makes drug courts as successful as they are. However, the remainder of this chapter will deal specifically with component number five and its practical implication for monitoring participant and program effectiveness.

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