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Home Administration Court Services Problem Solving Courts How Drug Court Works
Home Administration Court Services Problem Solving Courts How Drug Court Works
How Drug Court Works


Successful drug courts rely upon the combined expertise and collaboration of many disciplines. Representatives from the court, probation, district attorney, public defender, drug court coordinator, mental health and drug treatment agencies, and other community based agencies work together to provide the support, accountability and services that are conducive to positive behavior change.
THE DRUG COURT JUDGE presides over the court proceedings and monitors appropriate application of disciplines, sanctions and incentives while maintaining the integrity of the court. The judge regularly reviews case status reports detailing each participant’s compliance with the treatment mandate, drug test results, cooperation with the treatment provider, and progress towards abstinence and law-abiding behavior. During regular court appearances (the frequency can be once a week to once every month), the judge administers a system of 6 graduated sanctions and rewards to increase each participant’s accountability and to enhance the likelihood of recovery.
As a result of their frequent interactions during court appearances, participants develop a strong rapport with the judge. The judge speaks directly to them, asking about their progress, exhorting them to try harder, and applauding their accomplishments, while also reminding them of the obligation to remain drug-free. The judge imposes any sanctions, including time in jail, for ongoing drug use or other behavior that is inappropriate or impedes progress in the program. The judge typically inquires about specific issues or difficulties, such as school attendance, attempts to gain employment, and efforts to reunite with their children and other family members. Finally, the Judge decides the ultimate program outcome of graduation or incarceration.
THE DRUG COURT COORDINATOR is typically responsible for overseeing the day-to-day drug court operation such as managing the budget and resources, grant writing, maintaining individual files on participants, compiling statistical data and guiding or participating in program evaluation, contract management, preparation and management of drug court dockets, and soliciting community support through education and other linkages in an effort to enhance services available to the participant. Other miscellaneous responsibilities can include such things as public relations, organizing and/or chairing local multidisciplinary teams, and in situations where time and skills allow, may also provide some case management services.
Drug court coordination is currently a secondary responsibility of various team members. Judges, probation officers, treatment providers, judicial staff etc. have assumed this responsibility in addition to their other duties and as a result there is not enough time to accomplish all tasks adequately. Court Coordinators serve as the “hub” of the drug court program and are responsible for program development, program enhancement, and day to day operations. Drug Court Coordinators are familiar with the various team member operations and maintains clear and open relations with team members and community agencies. Under the proposed model the coordinator assumes the responsibility of collecting and disseminating information used in pre-court staff meetings and in court. The coordinator will also be responsible for collection and entry of essential data for program evaluation. In the drug court model, judicial staff and probation officer FTE will significantly increase without funding for the coordinators.
THE PROSECUTOR/COUNTY ATTORNEY reviews all potential participants for eligibility, actively participate in staffing of cases, and interact with the staffing team to address revocations, pleas and application of sanctions and incentives as they apply to the participant. The role of the prosecutor in a drug court is quite different from a “typical” criminal proceeding where the roles of prosecutor and defense attorney are adversarial. In drug court, all parties, including the prosecutor and defense attorney, share a common goal of successful treatment completion.
The prosecutor reviews new cases, determines which are drug court appropriate, and recommends the incarceration alternative should the defendant fail to comply with the treatment mandate. As part of a collaborative team with the judge, defense attorney, case manager, and treatment staff, the prosecutor monitors participant progress and can make recommendations regarding sanctions and ultimate treatment outcomes. Also, if a participant is re-arrested, the prosecutor investigates the new case and assesses the appropriateness of continued participation.
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER actively participate as defense counsel by advocating for the participant during staffing and court proceedings in a non-adversarial manner, assisting with the negotiation of plea agreements, and completing necessary documents to facilitate the treatment process for the participant. The defense attorney represents and counsels the defendant in all court proceedings. The defense attorney is interested in promoting not only the legal rights but also the health and well being of the defendant. At the same time, the defense attorney always makes the defendant’s constitutional rights the primary concern.
DESIGNATED CHEMICAL HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH STAFF participate in weekly staffing, make treatment recommendations to the Court, and as appropriate, will identify and/or provide a continuum of care for participants while advocating on behalf of the client and for the integrity of the Court. Treatment services could include hospital-based detoxification, short-term residential treatment, long-term residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment. Staff refer participants to specific programs based on their clinical suitability, the program’s ability to comply with reporting requirements, and the program’s capacity to meet any special needs that may exist (e.g., mental or physical health, or language barriers).
THE CASE MANAGER in an adult drug court is typically a Probation Officer and is responsible for direct supervision of the drug court participant’s compliance with the program, including implementation of the appropriate supervision level based on established measures, providing community linkages and referrals to appropriate agencies, and monitoring the day-to-day activities and home environment of the participant.
“Case management” is essential to carrying out the mandate of the key components of a drug court as outlined in Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components. It is a series of inter-related functions that provides needed coordination and seamless collaboration, and is the force that holds the varied and many drug court elements together, ensuring that: (1) Clients are linked to relevant and effective services; (2) all service efforts are monitored, connected, and in synchrony; and (3) pertinent information gathered during assessment and monitoring is provided to the entire drug court team in real time.  Essentially, case management forms the framework around which the drug court process can credibly and effectively operate.”  
Current adult probation drug court caseloads in the state are up to 100 offenders per probation officer. Probation Services has mapped out the various drug court probation officer duties and have concluded that 40 offenders per probation officer is an adequate adult drug court offender to probation officer ratio.
THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER acts as a liaison between the program and their respective department and is responsible for dissemination of information to officers that come in contact with Drug Court participants to assure reasonable and appropriate measures are used when checking the participants for compliance.
THE EVALUATOR is responsible for developing reliable and valid methodologies to study the effectiveness of the drug court. It is necessary for all drug courts to regularly evaluate their effectiveness. This is done through primarily three evaluations: process, outcome, and cost-benefit. The evaluator is an essential component of every drug court, though this is not necessarily a position/FTE employed by every court; i.e., the role can be provided at the state, regional or local level. The evaluator, while generally considered a part of the drug court team, does not participate in drug court team reviews as it compromises the objectivity of the evaluator and the integrity of the evaluation process.
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