You be the judge...

Imagine the following scenario: Seven prior misdemeanor convictions – three petty thefts, two drunk driving, a disorderly conduct, and an assault.  A brief stint in a treatment program for alcoholism.  And the defendant is before the court again for a felony Driving Under the Influence.  A judge reviewing this defendant’s record sees that the defendant must spend at least the mandatory minimum of 120 days incarcerated while waiting for trial, on top of many days of jail in recent years.  At other times, the defendant was referred for treatment but didn’t go. What else is left?  More jail?  It didn’t work before to protect the public, except for the brief time that the defendant was incarcerated.  More treatment?  That didn’t seem to work either.  (Only half of defendants ordered to treatment make their first appointment.)

In response to these questions asked by hundreds of judges about thousands of defendants, judges twenty years ago began developing new approaches to chronic offenders whose criminal activity appeared to be fueled  primarily by alcohol and drug abuse.  Drug courts, drunk driving courts, veterans courts and other similar courts  are known as “therapeutic” or “problem-solving” courts.  Participants in these courts are given a full, mandatory schedule of treatment, work search, sobriety monitoring, peer support and community work service.  Most importantly, the participant comes before the judge every week to discuss progress and failures. The personal interaction with a judge who is both supportive and strict is one of the essential elements that sets these courts apart from the rest of the judicial system.

These courts have ten key components as defined by the National Drug Court Institute.