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V. Incorporating Drug Court Concepts and Techniques Into Ongoing Court and Justice System Operations

Although participants agreed on the desirability of stable funding for well-functioning drug courts, some also stressed the importance of looking beyond existing drug courts. What are the characteristics of drug courts that have made them successful where traditional models of both adjudication and treatment have been less effective? To what extent and how can these characteristics be adapted to help address other problems facing our Nation’s courts and justice systems? Focus group participants cataloged many of the features of drug courts that, in their view, distinguish them from traditional approaches:

  • Problem-solving orientation.

  • Collaboration across organizations and by individuals.

  • Multidisciplinary team approach.

  • Community focus through community links and use of community resources.

  • Commitment to meaningful treatment.

  • Understanding of the nature and complexity of addiction.

  • Strength-based approaches to rehabilitation.

  • Goals for accomplishment by each drug court participant and by the drug court itself.

  • Use of performance measures.

  • Emphasis on results.

  • Systems of accountability for both participants and the program.

  • Effective use of information in making decisions.

  • Promptness/immediacy in court actions.

  • Openness to research and evaluation.

  • Appreciation of diverse cultures.

  • Creativity.

  • Openness to change.

  • New ways to think about problems and how to do business.

Clearly, there should be ample room for incorporating many of these features of effective drug courts into other aspects of court operations. Many court and justice system leaders will probably be interested in doing so. In regard to adaptation, several key provisions should be noted of a resolution on problem-solving courts adopted jointly by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) in August 2000. By this resolution, which notes in its preamble that well-functioning drug courts represent the best practice of the principles and methods of problem-solving courts, CCJ and COSCA agreed, among other things, to

  • Take steps nationally and locally to expand and better integrate the principles and methods of well-functioning drug courts into ongoing court operations.

  • Advance the careful study and evaluation of the principles and methods used in problem-solving courts and study their application to other significant issues facing State courts.

  • Encourage, where appropriate, the integration over the next decade of the principles and methods used in the problem-solving courts into the administration of justice. This will improve court processes and outcomes while preserving the rule of law, enhancing judicial effectiveness, and meeting the needs and expectations of litigants, victims, and the community.

  • Support national and local education and training in the principles and methods used in problem-solving courts and in collaboration with other community and government agencies and organizations.

  • Advocate for the resources necessary to advance and apply the principles and methods of problem-solving courts to the general court systems of the various States.

The strong endorsement of drug courts by the CCJ and the COSCA should be encouraging to practitioners concerned about institutionalizing drug courts. Much more remains to be done, but the value of drug court concepts and techniques is clearly recognized at the highest levels of our Nation’s State court systems.

  Institutionalizing Drug Courts March 2002