New Publication! An Equity and Inclusion State of Mind: A Statewide Approach to Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Treatment Courts

The criminal legal system has a well-documented history of racial disparities and mistreatment of minoritized racial and ethnic groups. Treatment courts are a part of this same system and unfortunately, have not been exempt from racial and ethnic disparities in its programs. American University and the Center for Justice Innovation collaborated to assist treatment courts in several states in tackling racial and ethnic disparities. This report outlines results and policy recommendations derived from American University’s and the Center for Justice Innovation’s racial and ethnic disparities statewide training and technical assistance collaboration.

Read the report here.

If you’d like additional information, please reach out to Karen Otis (otisk@innovatingjustice.org) or Zephi Francis (zfarncis@american.edu). 

Revelations from a Research Article on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Treatment Courts

I’m excited to announce the publication of the article Color in the Court: Using the Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) Program Assessment Tool to Promote Equitable and Inclusive Treatment Court Practice published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. This study was conducted by a team from American University (AU) and Morgan State University (MSU). This commentary will provide a concise summary of the article’s key findings and implications for treatment courts. 

Instead of the typical punitive model in the criminal legal system, treatment courts address the root causes of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health disorders that often lead to incarceration or other forms of involvement in crime. Treatment courts have gained traction for their restorative and rehabilitative approaches. These courts reduce criminal recidivism rates, assist people on a path of recovery, and save communities money.

Nonetheless, it’s vital to acknowledge and address the racial and ethnic disparities that exist within the criminal legal system, including treatment courts. This is where the Racial and Ethnic Disparities Program Assessment tool (RED Tool)  plays a vital role in rectifying RED in treatment courts. The RED tool provides a comprehensive evaluation of RED in treatment courts to promote equity and inclusion within courts. The tool narrows in on distinct goals as part of its foundational design, which includes raising awareness about RED, highlighting existing inequities within courts, and offering recommendations on alleviating racial and ethnic inequities in programs. The tool sorts data into 8 different sections allowing for a thorough analysis of treatment court practices. 

The sample for this study consisted of about 13% of treatment courts in a Midwestern state. Below are several key findings from the study.

  • The completion rates reveal that minoritized participants, including African American, Biracial, and Hispanic participants had completion rates of less than 30%. In contrast to their White counterparts, who attained a completion rate of 64.9%.
  • Data from the study suggests that only 37% of courts have reviewed their graduation rates to examine disparities among different racial and ethnic groups. 
  • On the topic of mandatory training, only 6% of courts required staff to complete cultural competency training. 
  • Further data reveals that merely 47% of courts agreed with the statement, “our team is racially and ethnically diverse.”
  • Within this study, it’s important to note that none of the treatment courts mentioned racial equity within their mission statements.

For more findings, please read the full article here

There is no doubt that treatment courts work, however, there is always room for growth. When treatment courts complete the RED tool and implement its recommendations, they should see improvements in access, retention, and overall program satisfaction for minoritized participants, which should lead to participants finding their path to recovery. According to SAMHSA, National Recovery Month is celebrated each September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices. We want to thank the treatment court professionals involved in providing prevention and treatment. Lastly, we celebrate those who are moving forward on their recovery journey.

A Vital Takeaway from 2019: Collaboration May Be Our Strongest Tool

People walking on a calendar

As 2019 comes to a close, we reflect on the year’s accomplishments. 2019 is my first year working at the Justice Programs Office and on the Right to Counsel National Campaign (R2C), and I’ve been surprised by the level of collaboration I see between criminal justice stakeholders on the issue of the right to counsel. Perhaps I had low expectations—when your justice system model is called “adversarial,” common goals don’t sound easy to come by—but as I learned more about the repercussions of poor public defense, I began to understand the imperative for collaboration. An effective public defense delivery system helps other parts of the criminal justice system function properly, and many of those who work in this system every day understand that. In terms of meaningful, systemic change, I’m aware that an interest in working together is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a key start. I’d like to touch on a couple of highlights from 2019 that can inspire us as we move forward.

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Changing Course: Counteracting the Criminalization of Trafficking Survivors

Young african american with his head down

Over the past decade, there has been an increased public awareness that sex trafficking survivors are being arrested and prosecuted for prostitution. Accordingly, many jurisdictions have opened specialty courts for these survivors. This is progress, but in the grand scheme of things, we have only scratched the surface of the problem.

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Investing in Equal Access to Quality Public Defense

Stacked office filesLast month, California congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act. If passed, the bill would create a $250 million grant program aiming to establish workload limits for public defenders and pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors. The bill would also authorize $5 million to provide training to public defenders.

Continue reading “Investing in Equal Access to Quality Public Defense”

How Human Trafficking Myths Hurt Survivors

person standing in the darkDisclaimer: Possible sensitive material. The author discusses the nature of human trafficking situations and means of control.

During my undergraduate years, I embodied the enthusiastic student suddenly emboldened by the idea that I could do something to change the world. When at a campus event, I was shown a video that detailed the (fictional) story of a young woman from Eastern Europe who was kidnapped and brought to the United States for forced work in the sex industry. The woman was moved around the country and was locked in various homes, hidden away from everyone except for her captors and clients. She only managed a dramatic escape by breaking free of her chains and running towards good citizens for help. Like most Americans, this was my introduction to the issue of human trafficking.

Continue reading “How Human Trafficking Myths Hurt Survivors”

Civil Legal Aid Offers a Second Chance and Keeps Americans Working

A person in the shadows.

April is Second Chance Month and, with that, we celebrate the important role legal aid organizations and public defense providers can play in helping people with criminal records. There are tens of thousands civil collateral consequences of having a criminal record, such as having to disclose prior convictions on job applications, difficulty securing an occupational license, or losing one’s drivers’ license. Receiving legal services can help stabilize housing and reduce barriers to employment for the almost 75 million, or one-in-three, American adults facing these consequences.

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Offering Support and a Chance at Recovery

An image of a courtroom.I first learned about the issues that can arise with the over-consumption of alcohol in a freshmen seminar in college. Before that, I had no formal introduction or training on the negative consequences that can result from drinking and driving. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Impaired (DWI) are increasingly becoming a national issue. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 48 minutes in 2017.”1 People who are proven guilty of DUI/DWI can then end up in treatment courts.

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Spring is a Time for Renewal and for Second Chances

Graphic for National Second Chance Month. It’s finally spring and April – a month our criminal justice community has dedicated as Second Chance Month. At JPO, we join our community in bringing attention to the importance of second chances and the need to ensure that those impacted by the criminal justice system gain opportunities to restore their voting rights, find employment, get a driver’s license, have their record(s) expunged, and more. Continue reading “Spring is a Time for Renewal and for Second Chances”