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.
From the main stage at All Rise 2023, the largest ever gathering of treatment court professionals, participants and supporters, Doug Marlowe, Senior Scientific Consultant for All Rise (formerly NADCP), told the 5000 or so people in the room that, as a field, treatment courts have failed to address disparities in treatment courts. Over the course of the field’s 30-year history, report after report (including our research from this year), has shown that treatment court participants are predominantly white, and that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals graduate at half the rate (or worse) of their white counterparts.
Twenty-four hours later at the conference, an audience member in our session, who had been working with treatment courts since the late 90s bemoaned this same fact in response to our report on the statewide data we’d collected, “why do we keep gathering data” he asked, we don’t need more data, we need to fix this problem of disparities in courts. In a country with a 400-year history of legally sanctioned racial discrimination, it’s hard to stomach the reality that treatment courts, with our innovative approaches and individualized case planning, are at best not helping address disparities, and at worst, might be upholding them.
But part of the reason we keep telling courts to collect and analyze their racial and ethnic disparities (RED) data is that for 30 years many treatment courts have been bad at it. We do have national or state level reports, but they don’t tell us what’s happening in your court, and more importantly, the high-level data in national reports doesn’t capture the nuance of why people aren’t getting accepted into the program, what’s happening to them on their treatment court journey, and what’s stopping them from graduating.
I agree with the audience member from the conference (and I did tell him so personally), we don’t necessarily need more national data, but we do need courts to track and analyze their RED data regularly. There’s a reason the Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standard Two exists and stands alone, racial equity in courts does not just happen, we must pay attention to it, track data on it, and respond when we see inequalities and disparities. Not regularly and systematically tracking data on disparities is a violation of Standard Two (to paraphrase Dr. Marlowe).
So, if we want to take that warning seriously, what should we be paying attention to? We want to know about the people in the program, but what about those who didn’t make it? Are Black people excluded because their criminal history, where-as white people aren’t? Are Black and Brown men overwhelmingly opting for jail instead of the program while white people are 50/50? Are there specific requirements that are tripping up some folks and not others. Our colleague Anne Dannerbeck-Janku found that requiring participants to have a full-time job to graduate was impeding Black participants graduation much more than white participants. There are several of potential reasons for this, and I don’t have any concrete answers, but we know from employment and hiring research that it is easier for a white man who went to prison to get a job than for a black man with no criminal history to get the same job, so that may have been part of it. This doesn’t mean you should throw out the requirement to have a job completely (as a job is great for both maintaining recovery and reducing future crime), but are there ways to make it more equitable?
The data is the start to a conversation, what phases are people dropping out of / getting stuck in, are there patterns by race or ethnicity, are there consistent reasons participants give during exit interviews for their success (or lack thereof)? We are often beaten over the head with graduation data, but looking for disparities in your programs starts much earlier than that, who is in (and why), who is out (and why), who is dropping out in phases 1 or 2 (and why), etc. There might not be easy answers, but that’s where experts from American University can come in to support you and think about what your data might mean.
If you want to start a conversation with us about how to collect, and understand, data on disparities in your program, reach out to us today at email@example.com
The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 6th through the 12th. This topic has not only started to get more attention in the last few months but remains a critical issue in need of effective solutions. For those incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system, assistance for mental illness is often overlooked and it’s even more true for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation.
The upcoming presidential election, the 25th anniversary of the federal 1994 crime bill, and the enactment of the First Step Act, have rekindled the national debate on the urgent need for criminal justice reform at the federal level.
On August 26th Women’s Equality Day is celebrated. Initially chosen in commemoration of the passing of the 19th Amendment that enshrined a woman’s right to vote, Women’s Equality Day has become a yearly celebration of the history of woman’s suffrage as well as a “pledge to continue fighting for equality for women and girls.”[i] In respect of that, this month’s blog post covers some of the issues women face in their experiences within treatment courts.
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.
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”
What’s celebrated in March? In addition to St. Patrick’s Day, Women’s History Month, and National Criminal Justice Month, we also celebrate Social Work Month. In honor of the many contributions social work has made to treatment courts, I decided to highlight a person whose work is beneficial to the practices and procedures of treatment courts. Dr. Anne Dannerbeck Janku is an associate research professor at the University of Missouri. For almost two decades, she has conducted research on racial and ethnic disparities in treatment courts. Continue reading “A Social Work Professor Serves the Court”
Over the past decade, veterans treatment courts have transformed the way the justice system identifies, assesses, and responds to veterans. One of the keys to veterans treatment court’s success has been the inclusion of veterans from the community who serve as mentors to their fellow veterans in crisis.
It’s no secret that substance use disorders are linked to mental health issues. According to SAMHSA, over 7.9 million Americans experience co-morbidity (two or more conditions at a time) with a mental and substance use disorder.[i] Drug courts are designed to bridge the gap between substance use treatment and the criminal justice system, but mental health treatment is often an overlooked link. For participants in drug courts nationwide, between one-quarter and one-half are referred to a mental health treatment provider for a co-occurring mental disorder.[ii] Unless drug courts begin to properly address the mental health of the participants, they will not be resolving all underlying problems that led to criminal justice involvement for people with co-occurring disorders. Continue reading “Addressing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in Treatment Courts”