Drug Courts Are Treatment Courts

The Justice Programs Office is celebrating National Drug Court Month by sharing the personal perspectives of those who work in the treatment court field. Jeffrey Kushner, MPHA, the Statewide Drug Court Administrator for the State of Montana begins our series examining the important partnership between treatment providers and drug court teams. 

Jeffrey Kushner Picture
Jeffrey N. Kushner, MPHA,
Statewide Drug Court Administrator, State of Montana

There are few services more difficult to provide than alcohol and other drug use treatment. In most instances we are, at least initially, dealing with individuals whose brains have been hijacked by powerful drugs. New drug court participants are often primarily interested in getting more and more of their drugs of choice and not in overcoming their problems. Treatment professionals, therefore, need all the help and support we can provide them in order to be most effective with our drug court participants. With over 50 years of experience in this field, it is very clear to me that by utilizing the resources of the criminal justice system and the treatment system we can improve success through the use of evidence-based practices rather than each system by itself.

Before leaving the City of St. Louis as the drug court administrator several years ago, I saw how the St. Louis drug court was instrumental in helping move numerous treatment programs in the direction of using evidence-based practices to the benefit of the drug court, the treatment providers themselves, and most of all…our drug court participants. Utilizing the resources of both systems was critical to this movement to evidence-based treatment practices. In the process, both systems developed a healthy respect for each other’s suggestions and opinions.

Drug courts are treatment courts. Treatment is a focus of the drug court environment and is not peripheral to supervision and other criminal justice priorities. In the drug court environment, the drug court team and the treatment provider(s) is in a “partnership” with extensive benefits for both but most of all for the drug court participant. Treatment providers and drug courts jointly develop goals and objectives and utilize a team approach. Drug courts monitor their drug court participants for alcohol and other drug use and work in partnership with treatment programs to reassess individualized/tailored treatment plans when the need arises.

Drug court team members should become familiar with the key elements and evidence-based practices that should be employed by their treatment program partners. To get started, here are four very good references for drug court team members:

A good exercise for drug court team members to become familiar with these resources is to distribute the publications to team members and then have them report on what they have learned by reading them. Each of the documents has information regarding effective treatment that is critical to the success of all categories of drug courts.

Treatment programs, when properly oriented, should conclude that partnering with their local drug court can be extremely advantageous. Not only do drug courts help treatment providers meet their performance criteria (National Outcome Measures, e.g. abstinence, stable housing, employment improvement, educational advancement, treatment completion, etc.), drug court participants make treatment appointments at considerably higher rates than other clients, and, thus, there is more consistent treatment delivery and more consistent revenue streams for treatment providers. Other benefits to treatment providers include:

  • Working with drug court team partners who value the expertise and recommendations of treatment providers and recognizes the importance of treatment.
  • Drug courts require a Recovery Management Plan from each participant that is developed in conjunction with the treatment provider. This extends recovery maintenance beyond time in drug court for better outcomes for the long term.
  • Drug court participants utilize 12-step programs and are held accountable for their attendance at self-help programs. Drug court sanctions/recognition/treatment adjustments all support improved treatment outcomes
  • The staffing mechanism is in place for primary treatment counselors to communicate with the Drug Court team about progress of each client prior to team staffing.
  • Electronic communication allows the treatment program to be instantly informed about participant issues (e.g. substance use) and allow the Drug Court to be instantly informed about treatment non-compliance issues (e.g. lack of attendance or behavior problems).
  • Client manipulation of the two systems is reduced.

The benefits to the drug court participants are numerous. Drug courts integrate substance use dependency treatment (SUDT) with other needed auxiliary services for improved outcomes, and studies have shown that the more services delivered to SUD participants, the better the outcome. Drug court participants stay in treatment considerably longer, and treatment completion rates are considerably higher (50-70 percent vs. 30-35 percent). Studies have indicated that 90 percent of parolees and 70 percent of probationers do not complete treatment. Re-offense rates for drug court participants is lower. The treatment provider/drug court partnership has proven to be a win/win result for everyone.

Guest post written by Jeffrey N. Kushner, MPHA, Statewide Drug Court Administrator, State of Montana.