Judges urged to incorporate treatment in Drug Court rulings

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By JENNETTE BARNES
In an effort to generate new ideas and bolster political support for treatment-focused Drug Court procedures, over 100 judges and other court employees gathered at the Radisson Hotel Thursday and Friday for the founding meeting of the New England Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Karen Freeman-Wilson, executive director of the non-profit National Drug Court Institute, encouraged the group to “look at a different way of dispensing justice” by incorporating treatment into all drug court systems.
“There has always been treatment in the probationary system, but not with the extensive testing, case management and interaction with the judge that you have in Drug Court. It creates a standard of expectations [for the offenders to meet],” Freeman-Wilson said in an interview prior to her keynote address.
A former municipal in Indiana where she established a Drug Court in 1996, Freeman-Wilson believes the Drug Court model encourages permanent rehabilitation for addicts and pushes offenders to be more responsive to judges and treatment staff. The result, she says, is more cost effective than the “revolving door” of recidivism.
Although Rhode Island has a juvenile Drug Court division within the Family Court, the state has only a pilot program for adults. Five adult drug offenders attend a rigorous treatment program and must report to a judge weekly, in keeping with the Drug Court model.
According to Susan Revens, administrator of Rhode Island Superior Court, the adult Drug Court pilot program has been running since January 31 with a $.5 million three-year federal grant.
“We have a drug court, but really we don't, because we don't have the money. It's experimental,” she explained.
The grant-funded adult Drug Court was a judicial initiative, according to Revens. Drug Court can be costly, she said, because instead of two or three hearings before a judge, a Drug Court defendant could have 50.
“The whole idea of Drug Court is intensive supervised treatment. We get the defendant on the road to treatment instead of into prison,” Revens said.
Jeanne L. Shepard, a magistrate with the juvenile Drug Court, a division of the Family Court, hopes forming a regional association will make Rhode Island's system stronger through the exchange of ideas and experiences.
“Our infrastructure is fairly well set in place. What we need is linkages at the community level, outlets for young people in the process of recovery,” she said.
Shepard would like to see the juvenile Drug Court direct defendants toward treatment programs that are creative, and community-based and incorporate family members into the treatment process. At the juvenile level, she said, the court often has the opportunity to intervene while the child is still experimenting with drugs and is not chemically addicted.
The move to develop a professional dialogue about drug courts comes as Rhode Island's adult Drug Court moves toward more open procedures. Following critics' accusations that privacy policies had reached a level of secrecy about court proceedings, the court began posting its calendar and allowing the public to attend sessions with a judge's permission.
Family Court Chief Justice Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr. hopes the juvenile Drug Court will be able to hire more social workers to increase services to children, including more home visits. Communicating with other New England drug courts will help Rhode Island develop “best practice” methods, he said.
According to Judge Jeremiah, the state's Drug Court has been treating juvenile offenders for a year and half, with the caseload at 110 this year. The program has a $140,000 federal grant and nearly $500,000 from the Rhode Island Justice Commission.

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