Recovery Courts are a recent phenomena within our criminal justice system. The emergence of these new courts reflect growing recognition on the part of judges, prosecutors and defense counsel that traditional criminal justice methods of incarceration, probation or supervised parole have not stemmed the tide of criminal activity by drug addicted individuals.
Recovery Court is a special court charged with the responsibility of handling cases involving drug-addicted offenders. This is accomplished through an extensive supervision and treatment program. Recovery Court has the power to offer an individual an alternative to traditional court if they successfully complete a Recovery Court supervised treatment. For "graduates" of the program, the court may dismiss the original charge, lessen the sentence, or offer a lesser penalty.
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Recovery Court is for individuals who are taken into custody for non-violent drug offenses. Persons with prior crimes of violence or sex offenses will not be admitted. It is up to the individual to apply to enter Recovery Court. If they decide to apply, the prosecuting attorney's office, the defense counsel, and the case manager decide if the individual meets the criteria to be enrolled in Recovery Court.
Recovery Court sets forth clear goals and incentives to aid in drug addiction recovery. These goals and incentives must be met by the individual every step of the way to ensure graduation from the program. Strict penalties are put into place if the person does not meet the intended goals. This includes failures to appear at weekly court hearings, failure to show for a treatment session or failing of a drug test. Sanctions are implemented swiftly and in increasing severity. Repeated or escalating violations of policy will result in termination. Commission of any new felony offense requires termination.
Recovery Courts are based on negative reinforcement; the withdrawal of negative or unwanted factors to reward positive behavior. In these cases this is the removal of incarceration and/or fines for positive performance in treatment programs.
Sadly, people who are in need of treatment programs are not identified in the traditional court system. With the continuing increase in incarceration costs and the need for room in overcrowded jails, only 10% of persons who need treatment receive it in the traditional court system.
Studies regarding the use of drugs also suggest that some drug offenders utilize drugs in an attempt to self-medicate themselves for a psychiatric disorder. Individuals with mental illnesses are 2.7 times more likely to have substance abuse problems than individuals in the general populace. Individuals with substance abuse problems, particularly problems involving drugs other then alcohol, demonstrate almost a five–fold greater incidence of mental illness then the rest of the population.
One of the purposes of the Recovery Court system is to deal with all drug-using offenders while they are in the community, utilizing the programs that are currently in place. The goal is to place drug-using offenders in appropriate Recovery Court tracks that tailor the level of intervention and resource commitment to the needs of the offender, and more importantly the needs of the community. Recovery Courts provide more comprehensive and closer supervision of the drug-using offender than other forms of community supervision. While most community based treatment programs are based on volunteering enrollment, Recovery Court remands individuals into programs, documents participation, and provides rewards for positive progress.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported that incarceration alone does little to break the cycle of drugs and crime. One study, completed in 1993, found that a full 60% of police chiefs believe that police and other law enforcement agencies have been unsuccessful in reducing the drug problem in the United States.
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has set forth 8 key elements to provide a guideline and structure format for Drug Courts in the nation.
If a person is currently charged with a felony offense, a request for admission to Recovery Court may be made.
In 1997, the Government Accounting Office reported that 71% of all offenders entering Drug Court/Recovery Court have either successfully completed their Drug Court/Recovery Court program or are at the present time actively participating in the program. The retention rate is very important to the program.