JUVENILE DRUG COURTS
Drugs and our youth, the numbers are rising. More and more children today are using drugs without their parents knowing. What happens when they get caught? It all depends on who caught them. If it is the parents, usually a big punishment. If it is law enforcement they may have to appear in front of drug courts specialized to handle juvenile cases. Sometimes the parents may even turn them in, just for the treatment and help these special courts can offer. The juveniles are then referred to juvenile drug courts for help. Today there are 72 juvenile drug courts in operation in 41 states in the United States, with more to come in the future What exactly is a juvenile drug court? What do they do? How do they help? Why are more specialized courts coming up for juveniles?
A juvenile drug court, as defined by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is “a juvenile drug court is defined as a drug court that focuses on juvenile delinquency (e.g., criminal) matters and status offenses (e.g., truancy) that involve substance-abusing juveniles.” (OJJDP; Juvenile and Family Drug Courts: An Overview, November 1996) Another way to look at juvenile drug courts is that they are special courts that provide judicial supervision for nonviolent juvenile offenders as they participate in addictions treatment services. Through an intensive, long-term program lasting from nine to 12 months, drug treatment courts monitor the offenders’ progress in treatment in an effort to stop their use of drugs, end their involvement in crime and improve their ability to function as responsible citizens and family members. The courts hold the offenders accountable for their progress in the program by requiring weekly or frequent random drug tests, participation in intensive treatment services on a regular basis (initially three to four times per week), and weekly appearances in court to allow the judge to determine each offender’s progress in treatment.
With the seemingly rising numbers in juveniles with drug problems there is a need more than ever to specialize programs to help our nations youth. They are needed to help these children overcome their addiction and clean up their act and move on to bigger and better things. Mostly, first time drug offenders are sent to these courts to help before it is too late.
Drugs are not the only thing that can send a juvenile to court, alcohol charges can as well. Another important aspect is to ensure that these teens stay clean. If they don’t they can end up with detention sentences, home incarceration, or possibly moved into the adult court system. Using one example of how drug courts work is from King County, Washington. Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen is over the juvenile drug court in King County. “Twenty-five teenagers appear before her every Thursday in the 4-month-old drug court. All of the youths referred to the court have been either charged with a drug or alcohol offense, or they are accused of committing property crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Juveniles charged with violent or sex-related offenses are excluded. Participating teenagers must attend weekly court hearings, complete court-ordered treatment, attend school, participate in individual, group and family counseling, and undergo random urine tests. After the first three months, youths who make progress can check in less frequently. Failure to comply with any part of the program can result in penalties ranging from having to repeat an earlier phase of treatment, to spending a day on a work crew, or being jailed for a few days in the detention center. So far, one teenager has been removed from the program because he needed intensive inpatient mental health treatment. None of the youths have flunked. Parents are also expected to participate in the weekly check-ins to report on their children’s progress.” (Teichroeb) By this report, it seems that the drug courts may work for our youth. As with any other court system, juvenile drug courts are there to ensure the success of each individual child. This is such a hot topic at this time because of the “get tough on drugs” debate. Americans don’t want their children growing up addicted to drugs and heading down the wrong path. Because of the implementation of specialized courts more individual treatment for the specific problems may be obtained. Instead of sending our youth to a typical everyday court, where they are thrown in with all other types of cases, we can now send them to a specialized court aimed at helping them overcome their problem. These specialized programs are so important in helping teens get clean. As a teen, they are more likely to be treated and released on their first time around. They may not be as lucky as adults. No teenager likes to be in trouble and especially wants to stay out of court.
These courts are so important to our youth because they can help them overcome obstacles they may not be able to overcome on their own. With peer pressure and the need to “fit in”, teens will turn to drugs and alcohol and think it makes them look cool. When this downward spiral of drug use and abuse, they will eventually get caught. Maybe not directly, but indirectly. A friend of theirs doing the same things may get caught and turn all of their friends in to get themselves out of more trouble. After getting caught, they can be sent to these special courts for juveniles and bypass a lot of other troubles they may have encountered if they hadn’t been caught. With the courts help, they can be treated and hopefully scared enough not to relapse and find themselves in front of another judge. Drug Court programs bring the full weight of all participants willing to help these juveniles such as the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, substance abuse treatment specialists, probation officer, law enforcement and correctional personnel, educational and vocational experts, community leaders and others, forcing the offender to deal with his or her substance abuse problem. (NADCP)
Most juvenile court professionals who are establishing juvenile drug courts are initiating these programs to provide the intensive judicial intervention and supervision of juveniles involved in substance abuse that is not generally available through the traditional juvenile court process. In part because of high caseloads and in part as a result of a lack of comprehensive treatment resources, the proponents of juvenile drug courts feel that the traditional juvenile court is becoming a forum focusing more on the determination of guilt than on the court’s original mission of rehabilitation. With the ever-growing prevalence of substance abuse among juveniles and the complexity entailed in their treatment, which must necessarily involve both the child and his/her living environment, the traditional juvenile justice process may be unable to deal effectively with the whole problem. The juvenile drug court is designed to fill this gap by providing immediate and continuous court intervention that includes requiring the child to participate in treatment, submit to frequent drug testing, appear at regular and frequent court status hearings, and comply with other court conditions geared to accountability, rehabilitation, long-term sobriety, and cessation of criminal activity.
Enhancements introduced by the juvenile drug court to the traditional court process for handling these types of cases include: Immediate intervention by the court and continuous supervision of the progress of the juvenile and his/her family by the judge; development of a program of treatment and rehabilitation services that addresses the family’s needs, not simply the child’s; judicial oversight and coordination of treatment and rehabilitation services provided to promote accountability and reduce duplication of effort; immediate response by the court to the needs of the child and his/her family and to noncompliance by either the child with the court’s program conditions; and judicial leadership in bringing together the schools, treatment resources, and other community agencies to work together to achieve the drug court’s goals.
Not only are there juvenile drug courts but there are also adult drug courts. There are some differences between the two but not much. In the few short years that juvenile drug courts have been operating, practitioners have identified several key differences between the populations and circumstances of adult and juvenile courts. Among them are the following: the drugs of choice differ, as does the nature of drug involvement; family issues become a primary focus in juvenile drug court; school issues replace work and training issues in the juvenile drug court environment; the fear of loss or punishment is often a key factor in adult rehabilitation; with less to lose and fewer sanctions, juveniles don’t share these fears, or the motivation to change. Because of the difference between adults and juveniles, treatment should also differ. Treatment facilities that are equipped and/or willing to treat juveniles are rare. Inpatient treatment for juvenile drug users is rarer still. Although treatment for juvenile is lagging behind, it doesn’t mean the help they need is far off.
Juvenile drug offenders commonly have a long history of school problems. They have alienated themselves from their schools, and the schools, in turn, are often relieved to be rid of them. As jurisdictions across the country seek to establish juvenile drug court systems, there is a natural, and seemingly reasonable, tendency among court practitioners to adapt existing adult drug court principles to juvenile drug court systems. When the Florida and Kentucky courts initiated juvenile programs, they believed that the adult model would work. To a degree, it does; the two court systems share some common goals and characteristics, as do the offenders who come before them. However, the juvenile drug court population presents challenges that are in many ways more complex than those arising in the adult arena, as their needs are different and often more difficult to address. In a short time, these issues will become easier to address. There is a lot of research and money going into these “pilot” drug courts. There are a lot of positive things coming out of them. As noted in the drug court from Washington, so far, none of the juveniles who have participated in the program have failed.
With this juvenile drug court movement, it has been found that “the populations and caseloads of most juvenile courts have changed dramatically during the past decade. Delinquency and dependency have become far more complex, involving more serious and violent criminal activity and escalating degrees of substance abuse. During the past 2 years several jurisdictions have tried to determine how juvenile courts can adapt the experiences of adult drug courts to deal more effectively with the increasing number of substance-abusing juvenile offenders. Juvenile drug courts, however, face unique challenges not encountered in the adult drug court environment, such as the need to: counteract the negative influences of peers, gangs, and family members; address the needs of the family, especially families with substance abuse problems; comply with confidentiality requirements for juvenile proceedings while obtaining information necessary to address the juvenile’s problems and progress. We must motivate juvenile offenders to change, especially given their sense of invulnerability and lack of maturity.
Accordingly, the development of juvenile drug courts has required special strategies. The following characteristics are common to juvenile drug courts compared with traditional juvenile courts: much earlier and much more comprehensive intake assessments; much greater focus on the functioning of the juvenile and the family throughout the juvenile court process; much closer integration of the information obtained during the assessment process as it relates to the juvenile and the family; much greater coordination among the court, the treatment community, the school system, and other community agencies in responding to the needs of the juvenile and the court; much more active and continuous judicial supervision of the juvenile’s case and treatment process; increased use of immediate sanctions for noncompliance and incentives for progress for both the juvenile and family.” (Roberts)
All in all, drug courts are going to make a tremendous difference in our country. This is already visible by the program discussed in this paper. With all the advances they are making and will make in these programs, it is easy to see they will be a major influence on our youth in the near future. The programs as the develop more and become widely know may help to defer juveniles from using drugs and alcohol. Although it will always be out there, with the thought of having to appear in a specialized court, may be enough to keep most of our youth away from drugs and crime. I foresee these specialized courts having a great impact on our society. Kentucky has began a drug court and, with hopeful success, will spread throughout the rest of the state.
I feel completely that these programs be allowed to continue and spread throughout our great nation. I think all the judicial systems need to be broken down into more specialized programs like the family, adult, and juvenile drug courts. With that breakdown, we could give the individuals the attention they truly need to overcome their addictions and get them back on their feet to success. All they need is a little more care and time to help them see the light.
OJJDP; Juvenile and Family Drug Courts: An Overview, November 1996
Teichroeb, Ruth; “Juvenile Drug Court Mixes Caring, Coercion”, Seattle Post Intelligence, http://www.seattle-pi.com/local/juvi07.shtml; accessed on April 6, 2000
National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP); http://www.nadcp.org/index.html
Roberts, Marilyn; The Juvenile Drug Court Movement.; Drug Courts Program Office, March 1997.