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Juvenile Drug Courts

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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



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