Providing Safer Communities through Treatment Accountability
The Douglas County Drug Court was launched in January 1996. This special court was given the responsibility to handle cases involving felony drug- and alcohol- addicted offenders through an extensive supervision and treatment program. Drug Courts provide closer supervision than other treatment programs due to a coordinated strategy involving the drug court judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, substance abuse treatment specialist and probation officer who monitor the offender in a combined effort to force the client to deal with his or her substance abuse problem.
Specific Goals of Douglas County Drug Court
The primary goals of the Douglas County Drug Court include: 1) target drug-using offenders and provide them with a cost-effective and successful program of drug rehabilitation and education that would give offenders the opportunity to recover from substance abuse; 2) to provide the offender a positive alternative to incarceration; and 3) to alleviate pressure on an overburdened criminal justice system.
Drug Court Eligibility
Individuals eligible for participation in the Drug Court Program are those that are charged with a crime involving controlled substances, other than delivery or manufacture thereof. Probation officers may refer their probationers to the Drug Court Program if it becomes apparent to them that the probationer has a drug problem not successfully treated through regular probation supervision.
Program Acceptance Process
Upon arrest, the defendant's case is screened by the deputy district attorney assigned to Drug Court. Defendants who meet Drug Court eligibility criteria are arraigned and the Drug Court Program is explained to them. The defendant is given two weeks to decide if he or she is willing to participate in the Drug Court Program. After this fourteen-day period, the defendant returns to court to accept or deny entry into the Drug Court Program. Those who accept the offer are sent to the treatment specialist for assessment. Once assessed, an appropriate treatment plan is created and the client begins attending treatment, undergoing drug screening, attending AA/NA meetings regularly and appearing in court before the judge.
Clients progress through the program by achieving treatment objectives, remaining drug free and obtaining no new charges. Drug Court clients must pay all related fines, be clean and sober at least six months and complete all phases of treatment before graduation. Clients who successfully complete the program (average completion time is approximately 16 months) may have their charges dismissed. Defendants who are noncompliant may be sanctioned, by the Drug Court judge. Sanctions include landscape crew, work crew, increased treatment, time in jail or terminated from the program. If terminated from the program a Stipulated Facts trial is held and the client is sentenced on the original Drug Court charge(s).
Probationers referred to the Drug Court and accepted into the program, progress through the program in the same fashion. However, their charges will not be dismissed, but their probation may be terminated early.
Drug Court and the Community
The design and structure of Douglas County Drug Court's program was developed at the local level to reflect the unique strengths and needs of the citizens and communities of Douglas County. The union between Douglas County Drug Court, local businesses, educational and vocational entities, has resulted in the development of a jobs program and a continuing educational program now available to Drug Court participants who are in the later stages of the treatment program.
These programs help fuse rehabilitated clients back into the community as productive people, rather than criminal offenders who drain the county's resources.
Douglas County Drug Court is in session two days a week and every other Tuesday night (night court to accommodate those who are working or in school) and serves approximately 100 clients at any one time.
Drug Court and Your Tax $$$
A review of thirty evaluations involving twenty-four drug courts, conducted for the National Drug Court Institute, found that these facilities keep felony offenders in treatment or other structured services at roughly double the retention rate of community drug programs. Drug courts provide closer supervision than other treatment programs and substantially reduce drug use and criminal behavior among participants.
Incarceration of drug-using offenders costs county taxpayers approximately $21,000 per person per year, according to figures from Douglas County Corrections. In contrast the Drug Court treatment program costs approximately $2,500 per offender. Recidivism rates are dramatically reduced through the Drug Court treatment program, thus resulting in lowering crime and building safer communities while saving tax dollars.