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IV. Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles to Achieving Stable Funding

At the focus group meeting, participants were divided into peer groups to discuss strategies for overcoming the major obstacles to long-term stable funding for well-functioning drug courts. Interestingly, the strategies identified by the three peer groups (one consisting of judges, the second of court administrators, and the third of a mix of drug court coordinators, evaluators, treatment providers, and technical assistance providers) had a great deal in common. Seven basic strategies were identified.

1. Learn the funding streams.

The potential funding sources for drug courts vary from State to State, and sometimes even within a State. Moreover, funding patterns are often in flux as appropriation levels change and responsibilities for funding some types of governmental functions shift from local to State level or vice versa. For example, in California, the State has recently taken over responsibility for State funding of the courts, making State-based funding more important than in States where this responsibility resides principally at the county or municipal level.

The funding of drug court operations is particularly complex because so many different agencies are involved in the operation of successful drug courts. Funding may come from the local (county or municipal) funding authorities for some functions and from State legislatures (directly or through State agencies) for other functions. Funding of treatment services and drug testing equipment and services, which are especially important components of the budgets of drug courts, is difficult. Several participants at the focus group meeting emphasized the importance of learning about health insurance and managed care regulations that may affect funding for treatment services.

Drug court leaders and practitioners who are concerned about the long-term viability of their drug court must learn about the different funding sources, how to tap into them, and how to avoid pitfalls in the funding process. As discussed below, they can often learn from others in their States who have already developed basic knowledge and essential contacts.

2. Develop partnerships and alliances.

Partnerships and collaboration are hallmarks of most drug courts at the operational level and are recognized as key components of well-functioning drug courts. The partnerships that are essential to day-to-day operations can also be extremely valuable in developing stable long-term funding.

The most obvious partners in an operating drug court are the

  • Drug court judge and coordinator.

  • Treatment provider(s) working with the drug court.

  • Prosecutor.

  • Public defender or defense bar leadership.

Beyond this core drug court team, however, a host of other agencies, organizations, and individuals can be helpful (and are often essential) both in day-to-day operations and in efforts to obtain stable funding. Many drug courts have broad-based advisory groups or steering committees. Such committees can be helpful not only in shaping operations and developing interorganizational working relationships but also in helping the drug court gain broad acceptance and long-term funding. Agencies, organizations, and other groups on a steering committee or advisory committee (or simply participating in an informal coalition) could include

  • Local health departments and mental health departments.

  • Local social service agencies (e.g., housing, welfare).

  • Schools and colleges.

  • Local probation departments.

  • Sheriff’s offices.

  • Local police departments.

  • Local departments of corrections.

  • Community organizations.

  • Business leaders.

  • Civic groups.

  • Leaders of the faith community.

Several other organizations and individuals also have a stake and interest in the effective operation of the drug court and can be valuable allies in efforts to obtain stable funding. They include

  • The State’s supreme court.

  • The State court administrator’s office.

  • The State alcohol and drug treatment agency.

  • State and local bar associations.

  • State legislators, especially legislators who represent districts served by the drug court.

  • The Governor’s office, especially the budget director.

  • County commissioners and other local government officials, including budget directors.

  • State agencies that provide direct services, funding, and/or guidance to local branches that can help support the drug court, e.g., departments of corrections, probation, health, children and families, and social services.

  • State police.

  • The health insurance industry.

  • The business community.

  • The print and electronic media.

  • Citizen groups interested in criminal and juvenile justice issues, drug prevention, and economic development.

The nature of the partnerships and alliances, for purposes of both day-to-day operations and developing stable funding for the drug court, will obviously differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Several jurisdictions have found it helpful to have a formal agreement or memorandum of understanding that reflects each participating organization’s commitment to the drug court program and defines the parameters of the relationship.

Alliances formed to support drug courts should be inclusive. One obvious objective of forming an alliance is to foster acceptance of drug courts as a valuable component of the entire justice system and of the treatment community. Focus group participants agreed that, although integration of the drug court into the larger court is critical in developing stable funding (thus putting a premium on development of intracourt alliances), the trial court is not the only relevant organizational entity. To achieve full-scale integration and long-term funding, drug courts will need to gain the cooperation and support of other potential stakeholders of the drug court. These include justice system agencies and treatment providers, social service agencies, business organizations, community groups, and legislative and executive branch leaders.

Partnerships should be developed at both the leadership level and the line staff level. Leaders of organizations that have a stake in the drug court and the organizations’ members are logical participants in a steering committee or advisory group and can influence policies in ways that help the drug court. Members of the drug court team interact daily with staff of the larger court and the other agencies that participate in the work of the drug court. The nature of these interactions may also influence policies, practices, and attitudes that affect the ability of the drug court to achieve its goals and gain long-term support. When line staff level partnerships are strong between the organizations involved in the drug court, transitions of personnel are easier, the drug court operates more effectively, and the likelihood of developing stable long-term support increases.

Several focus group participants noted that the best kinds of partnerships are those that last for extended periods. Drug courts that engage a wide range of partners and demonstrate the value of the partnerships on the day-to-day operation of the court should be able to call on the partners for support and assistance in developing stable funding.

3. Clarify the drug court’s goals.

A drug court’s goals are the criteria by which others will measure its success and effectiveness. Drug courts should be clear about what they are trying to accomplish, and the extent to which the goals are achieved should be measurable. Whatever the other goals, two of them should be

  • Lower recidivism—a decrease in criminal behavior on the part of drug court participants while in the program.

  • Reduction in substance abuse on the part of drug court participants while in the program.

The goals of the drug court are the foundation for its own accountability and for the accountability of the drug court participants. The goals should be realistic and achievable. They should be reflected in the organization of the drug court program, the information it collects and uses for management purposes, and, ultimately, in the outcome of the program in terms of its impact on participants’ lives.

4. Develop information about effectiveness.

To develop stable funding, drug court leaders will have to show that the drug court is achieving its goals and is cost effective compared with other approaches to dealing with similarly situated individuals. At a minimum, drug courts should have basic information about their goals, eligibility criteria, and operational procedures, about the performance of the persons accepted into the drug court program, and about program costs. The information should be current and analyzed regularly to provide feedback, in the first instance, to the drug court judge and other key drug court leaders.

Optimally, the drug court will have a competent independent evaluator who can assess the performance of the drug court in accordance with established criteria. Even with an evaluator involved, however, the drug court’s leaders should know how well the program is doing and why.

Several focus group participants noted that information about drug court effectiveness should not be limited to quantitative data. Qualitative data, particularly the stories of participants and graduates and the views of justice system practitioners and treatment providers, can be valuable in painting a picture of the drug court’s impact and effectiveness.

5. Identify and address the difficult issues.

Participants identified several issues that drug court practitioners are sometimes reluctant to address directly but are important to gaining acceptance and support for drug courts. They include the following:

  • Judicial ethics. Some observers, including some judges, question whether the operations of some drug courts are in conflict with provisions in canons of judicial ethics. Where there are perceived conflicts, the issues should be addressed directly. For example, there are differing views on subjects ranging from the appropriateness of exchanging information about drug court participants during precourt “staffing” sessions to the propriety of judges engaging in social events at which drug court participants are present.

  • Priorities in the allocation of resources. Although proponents of drug courts are convinced of the value and importance of drug courts, court administrators and others involved in the funding process are inevitably faced with a broad range of requests for allocation of resources for other purposes. At minimum, the reality of competing requests heightens the importance of solid data on drug court program effectiveness, including cost-effectiveness in comparison to other approaches to handling similar cases.

  • The uniqueness of drug courts. Several of the court administrators at the focus group meeting noted that proponents of drug courts sometimes want to both preserve a unique identity and become a part of the larger court or court system, with the funding support that accompanies being integrated into the larger system. To become truly integrated into the larger court system, drug courts will have to become less isolated, and judges and staff of both the drug court and the main court will need to better understand each others’ values, roles, and procedures.

6. Develop and implement a comprehensive education strategy.

Focus group participants were emphatic about the importance of educating a broad range of audiences about drug court concepts, operations, and effectiveness as part of any serious effort to achieve stable long-term funding. Specific suggestions for target audiences included the following:

  • Judges. Judges of a multijudge court that has a functioning drug court are a particularly important group, or, beyond that, all of the judges in a State. Participants were concerned that many judges who have not had experience as drug court judges are resistant to the drug court concept. All judges should have basic knowledge about the nature of addiction, substance abuse treatment methods, the skills and techniques used by effective drug court judges, and the concepts, operational procedures, and positive effects of the drug court.

  • Nonjudicial personnel in the court system. The support of senior administrators in the trial court and in the State court administrator’s office is considered essential.

  • Other justice system personnel. Involve prosecutors and their key deputies, public defenders and defense bar leaders, and officials in law enforcement agencies and corrections departments.

  • Policymakers at the local and State levels. Include legislators, county commissioners, and State executive branch officials who have funding responsibilities.

  • The media. Editors and beat reporters who cover courts and criminal justice issues should be educated.

  • The general public.

Focus group participants noted that attention should be paid to the types of educational efforts directed toward each of these audiences. The topics to be covered, level of detail, specific concepts and messages to be conveyed, and identity and qualifications of the messengers would all vary depending on the audience. For example, it makes sense for judicial systems to take primary responsibility for providing skill training to judges and drug court coordinators, but where the responsibility should lie for education and training of other justice system personnel is less clear. The development of a sound educational program is an obvious topic for collaboration across institutional lines.

Education should take place at the national, State, and local levels. National programs are especially valuable in enabling participants to learn about strategies, approaches, and techniques used by practitioners in other parts of the country. Single-State programs can bring together key policymakers and practitioners from around the State and direct attention to problems or issues that are especially salient in the State. At the local level, short seminars and workshops can be valuable for sharing information about a program and strengthening working relationships.

7. Use available external assistance.

Focus group participants noted many potential sources of assistance that drug court leaders could call on for help in efforts to secure stable funding. Sources of assistance include

  • Peers and colleagues in other drug courts.

  • State drug court associations.

  • Knowledgeable staff in State court administrators’ offices.

  • Independent consultants/technical assistance providers.

  • Researchers/evaluators familiar with the drug court and its performance.

  • National organizations that conduct educational programs and provide technical assistance.

Various assistance can be provided by these sources, such as

  • Information about funding sources and procedures for seeking funding.

  • Advice on strategies and approaches for specific potential funding sources.

  • Evaluation of drug court performance.

  • Data collection and analysis to make a presentation to a prospective funder.

  • Preparation of an annual report or other progress report on the drug court.

  • Help in forming associations or coalitions within the State in support of funding objectives.

  • Planning and conducting conferences, workshops, and other types of educational programs for audiences that are relevant to funding efforts.

  Institutionalizing Drug Courts March 2002