Supporting Treatment Courts Over the Years

I am tasked with surveying women who are participants in a family treatment court. The survey questionnaire is lengthy and may seem daunting in paper form, so I’ve been instructed to administer it in person. I handwrite the answers during hour and a half long interviews. Sometimes the interviews last even longer, depending upon the emotional state of the participant. Aside from reading reports on emerging problem-solving courts, this is my first experience inside a family treatment court. It is 1999, and I am working as a research associate for a study on Manhattan Family Treatment Courts while attending graduate school at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Nearly two decades later, this experience is still fresh. The personal accounts of the women struggling with substance use disorder have stayed with me throughout my professional career, as have the empathy and support shown to them by the treatment court team. Since then, there have been several other evaluations and research studies like mine conducted on various forms of drug and problem-solving courts. Efforts have continued to explore ways to make drug courts and other problem-solving courts effective by focusing on treatment, family engagement, and holistic approaches. The research field has stressed the importance of data collection to state and local jurisdictions.

But as times change, so do the problems. In the last two decades  I’ve seen drug courts and problem-solving courts continue to face new challenges and continually evolve to offer new solutions. For instance, when veterans started coming into the justice system with substance use and mental health issues, judges and drug court teams connected with their local veterans’ affairs offices to create veterans tracks or veterans treatment courts. Judge Russell in Buffalo championed the first veterans treatment court in 2008 and has been at the forefront of addressing substance use and mental health through innovative means. And now, when many jurisdictions are facing an opioid crisis, drug treatment courts are going back to the drawing board to look at new ways to support those with opioid addiction.

Today I am part of an effort to make sure that drug court professionals have the resources and tools they need to best support their jurisdictions. The Justice Programs Office, which is a center in American University’s School of Public Affairs, is the home of the National Drug Court Resource Center (NDCRC). For us, NDCRC is more than an information dissemination center. Here at the university, we work with research faculty to administer the national drug court survey and conduct drug court literature reviews. We also work and collaborate with state drug court coordinators and other national drug court organizations, hosting podcasts and webinars on topics that will be most helpful for them and their local drug courts and other problem-solving courts. We regularly communicate and reach out to the field through a monthly resource center newsletter, and we recently began publishing the Veterans’ Justice and Mental Health newsletter.

I am proud to be a part of the treatment solution for those struggling with substance use and mental health disorders and work with an amazing drug court team here at the Justice Programs Office.

Preeti Menon is the Justice Programs Office’s senior associate director.