Juvenile Drug Courts

Drug Courts came about as a result of a backlogged court system and a steady, rapidly increasing prison population. Drug courts are a form of diversion that helps the offender through rehabilitation and the community through an increased sense of protection, which serves the best interest of everyone. Drug Courts are community based intermediate sanctions that incorporate treatment principles into the Criminal Justice System and divert drug offenders from traditional punishments of probation and prison.

The objective of drug courts programs is to treat the underlying problems of addiction among drug offenders and eliminate participants’ future drug use and crime. Drug courts came about as a result of the 1980’s “war on drugs” where all levels of government came together to crack down on an epidemic of crack-cocaine use that had society believing that drugs were the main problem of the criminal justice system. Courts on state and federal levels were burdened and overloaded with drug cases. As a result, prison populations began to rise at an amazing rate.

According to statistics, “the number of adults arrested for drug-related violations increased 27. 3% between 1980 and 1995, in the same period, the percentage of prisoners in the custody of state correctional authorities for drug offenses increased from 6. 4% to 22. 7%”. With this rate of increase in drug offenses going through the courts system, something had to be done to manage the large number of cases that were drug-related. In the beginning, drug courts were only used to lighten the overcrowding in the court system.

They did not help to treat the offender or the offender’s addictions. In 1989, Janet Reno and Timothy Murray began a drug court program in Dade County, Florida that became a prototype for the nation. This program along with many other drug programs consists of cooperation between the judiciary, the district attorney, the public defender, probation officers, the police department, and the community. Over the past decade drug courts have caught on immensely and now maintain decent status. These specialized courts were designed to make the processing of drug cases easier.

They also were designed to help the offender by requiring treatment as part of the court supervised program. As of now almost every state has a drug court system. In June 2001, there were a total of 697 drug court programs in operation; serving an estimated 226,000 offenders and another 427 programs planned, according to the Office of Justice Programs. The drug courts primary goals include abstinence from drug use and reduction of recidivism. They work to increase community safety and awareness, life skills, and create a sense of well-being.

As with adults, many nonviolent, substance-abusing juvenile offenders repeatedly cycle through the system due to a lack of intervention measures that would provide sanctions and services necessary to change their deviant behavior. In an attempt to resolve this problem, many communities have established juvenile drug courts. Determining the target population and eligibility is centered on making use of limited available resources. Because of this, most juvenile drug courts focus on non-violent juveniles with moderate to heavy substance abuse problems.

The offender must sign the drug court agreement and a release of information, which states they admit to committing the crime. The juvenile drug court treatment program begins with an evaluation process. The program is then implemented into a four-phase sequence that concludes with graduation. In Phase I, an individual assessment plan is established that includes a minimum of nine hours of intervention per week. This intervention consists of social activities and health related classes that cover topics such as AIDS, HIV, and STD’s.

Individuals may also undergo family intervention, individual counseling, programs such as AA/NA, anger-management, self-esteem classes, and support groups. During the nine hours of intervention, juveniles learn how to better themselves, respect themselves, and break their addictions. A guardian or responsible adult is required to participate in a parent workshop or support group as well. In Phase II, emphasis is focused on family communication and education. In addition to Phase I treatment plan, juveniles are now required to complete six hours of intervention and sixty hours of community service.

Family member meetings increase and classes are directed on helping the family break any habits that may cause the offender to fail. In Phase III, intervention is reduced to four hours per week and emphasis is placed on educational progress or vocational training. Full-time school attendance is a requirement in the juvenile drug court treatment program. If a juvenile is not in school they are required to keep a full-time job. Classes continue but focus is placed on the need to be in school and bettering oneself.

Phase IV is the aftercare phase. Classes and intervention are reduced to two hours per week and an aftercare plan is established. Meetings are held that help the juvenile plan what to do after the program is completed. This is done with the help of a family intervention specialist and includes relapse prevention, identification of a drug free community support group, drug free community activities, and educational goals. Each phase of the drug court treatment plan usually lasts between 8 to 12 weeks.

In order to advance from one phase to another a juvenile must complete their intervention goals for that phase, they must have clean urinalysis/breath analysis tests, and there is a mandatory curfew. They must also meet with their probation officer, have reviews with the drug court judge, a guardian or responsible adult must participate in one parent workshop or support group, and the juvenile must have full time employment or perfect school attendance. Offenders in the drug courts system are rewarded or sanctioned according to compliance or non-compliance.

Some rewards are given for negative drug tests and phase completion. Rewards show the offenders that staff members in these programs are proud of their accomplishments. Some rewards include plaques, medals, or applause. Just as there are rewards there are sanctions. Sanctions can be given for dirty drug tests, failure to pay fines, failure to appear, or non-participation. Some of these sanctions include time in a juvenile assessment center, outside self help meetings, juvenile hall, essays, extra meetings with case specialists, or AA/NA.

Juvenile drug courts have proven to be an effective means of punishment and rehabilitation but some issues have come up. During the past few years, jurisdictions have tried to determine how juvenile drug courts can adapt the experiences of adult drug courts to more effectively deal with the steadily increasing number of substance-abusing juvenile offenders. While trying to deal with these offenders it has been found that juvenile drug courts face unique challenges not encountered in the adult drug court environment.

One such issue is the negative influences juveniles face from their peers, gangs, or possibly even family members. Juvenile offenders often lace the “hitting rock bottom” mentality that comes with years of substance abuse. Because of this, most juvenile offenders do not see as substance abuse to be so harmful. It is also easier for peers and gangs to pressure them into relapse due to the juvenile’s lack of maturity. Another issue juvenile drug courts must deal with is family needs, especially if there is a substance abuse problem with any other family members.

Because of this, family members are often encouraged or required to participate in adult drug court programs. Family members can have a very negative impact on a juvenile offender’s success if they are continuing to participate in substance abuse around the juvenile. Finally, juvenile drug courts have to comply with confidentiality rules. Juveniles have certain privileges of confidentiality such as records being sealed when they turn 18 years of age. Drug courts must work with these issues while trying to provide treatment. As for success in the juvenile drug courts programs, age has been linked as an indicator of success.

Statistics have shown that younger offenders are less likely to complete these programs than are older offenders and if they do complete the program they are more likely to re-offend than not. Race and gender were not found to be indicators of success or failure, but more research is needed. Juveniles that were terminated stayed in the program an average of 15 weeks, showing that the first 3 months is critical. Also, the amount of time in the treatment program was not directly linked to the outcome but is a complex variable in juvenile drug court research.

Research indicates that graduates from the drug court programs are a very successful group. They have lower arrest rates and lower conviction rates. They tend to be more self sufficient and motivated, and they report fewer problems upon release. Juvenile drug courts, although relatively new, have proven to be a positive force in the war on crime and drugs. Juveniles who go through the drug courts have reported an increased sense of self-worth and they are less likely to re-offend once in the community. There are statistics from several different studies that show how drug courts have had a positive effect on the offenders.

A study done in California showed that 13% of drug court participants were rearrested compared with 33% of offenders who did not participate. Also, drug use and recidivism were found to be lower in drug court participants than in non-participants. Drug courts offer more freedom to offenders than does incarceration. While in a juvenile drug court program offenders have the chance to get a job or attend school, thus improving their social ties in their community. They also have a chance to get involved in community activities and turn their lives around.

An offender in a juvenile drug court program can strive towards doing better in school, whereas incarceration does not give the offender the opportunity. Another strong point for juvenile drug courts is that they offer a less expensive alternative to incarceration. It costs on average $20,000 to keep an inmate in prison. A non-residential drug court treatment program costs $1,800 – $4,400 per year. Thus the drug courts could help more juveniles for the expense. Critics of drug courts argue that drug courts unnecessarily widen the net and do little for society.

Studies have shown that they benefit society greatly but drug courts do cause juveniles who may have been overlooked otherwise to be put into programs and do widen the net. Drug courts seem to be our best tool for managing the more serious offender who has the most obstacles to overcome to be successful. Participants who are not truly addicted tend to be terminated from the program. Because drug courts use judicial and therapeutic methods in dealing with substance abusing juveniles at the front end of the criminal justice system they have become increasingly popular.

With these specialized courts in almost every state they have become a driving force behind diversion as an alternative. Although these policies are new they are highly regarded because they demand hard work in treatment, frequent drug testing and regular court appearances, are less susceptible than other treatment programs to being dismissed as soft on crime and are therefore more politically acceptable. Drug courts have shown a positive effect on juveniles and the community. Trotter, Joseph A. JPO. October 12, 2003. www. american. edu Journal Article: Substance use and misuse. Volume 37, Issue 12-13.