Drug Court first began in Miami - Dade County, Florida. The rise in drug-related crimes during the 1980’s created a revolving door of arrest, prosecution and release in the criminal justice system in Miami. Officials there decided it was time to create a new system for dealing with the drug problems they faced in the community. This system has been modeled and replicated in Sarasota County. The intention of drug court is the break that cycle between drugs and crime. The program seeks to reduce drug abuse and related criminal behavior, improve work and social functioning, and reduce the spread of substance abuse related disease.
The difference between Drug Court and the regular court system and typical treatment programs is simple. Defendants, called "clients," not only receive the typical treatment interventions of group therapy, education and counseling, but also must appear before the Drug Court Judge on a regular basis. These court appearances are crucial to the effectiveness of the Drug Court model. Each time a drug court client appears in court, their participation in treatment and urinalysis results are reviewed by the judge. If the reviews are favorable, the client receives praise for their efforts. If the report reflects a lack of treatment participation or the urinalysis testing reports drug use, the drug court judge responds with an appropriate court-ordered sanction ranging from increased treatment to short stays in jail.
Each participant’s progress will be reported to the entire DUI Court through weekly team staffings held prior to the status conference court proceeding. Detailed status reports are prepared and copied for the Judge and all team members to review as a part of the staffing process. A review of their treatment and overall program status will be discussed, along with any program violations and recommendations. The judge finalizes all rewards and sanctioning.
Participation in Drug Court is voluntary. It is a treatment program. Defendants must want drug treatment in order to participate.
Defendants are required to appear in person before the judge on Thursdays at 10:00 once a week for the first 30 days of participation. Following the 30 days they must appear at least one time per month.
Defendants are also required to drug test at least 3 times per week on a random schedule. Testing hours are from 7:30 to 4:00 Monday through Friday. Defendants are encouraged to be honest about their sobriety.
Throughout the different phases of the program, defendants will be required to make one-on-one therapy appointments, group therapy meetings and outside support meetings. These are in person and are offered during normal business hours.
Defendants could be sanctioned with time in the county jail for failure to comply with the rules or maintaining sobriety.
Defendants may also be required to go to short term or long- term residential treatment programs at the discretion of the treatment team.
Defendants must be able to commit to this time schedule in order to successfully participate in the program. Participants are encouraged to establish and maintain a self-support group to assit them after they have completed treatment.
Financial requirements differ for each defendant. At a minimum there is a $10 per week fee that covers the costs of drug testing and counseling services. This can be met by performing community service hours if there is a need to do so. If Drug Court is a condition of probation, court costs will also need to be paid over the course of the defendant’s participation. There is no cost of supervision during participation in the Drug Court program.
To be eligible for Drug Court the defendant must fit the following criteria:
- There must be a pending felony.
- The defendant must have a drug problem.
- The defendant must want treatment for the problem.
- The defendant must have no violent felonies or sales charges currently pending or in the criminal history.
- The defendant must be willing to enter a plea.
- The defendant must be willing to commit to the time it takes to follow the four phases of treatment.
- The defendant must be willing to NOT use medical marijuana and to agree to NOT use any prescribed narcotic medication during participation in the program. All defendants on narcotic medication must sign a release to the prescribing physician informing them that they are currently in a drug treatment program and request to titrate off any narcotics and use non-narcotic alternatives.
Defendants can be referred to Drug Court in one of three ways:
- At first appearances the Judge can order a screening for appropriateness for the program.
- The defense attorney can request that the defendant be screened if they feel there is a need or an interest.
- The State Attorney can ask for a screening recommendation if they feel the defendant meets the criteria through discussions with law enforcement or family members.
Once the referral is made, a member of the State Attorney staff looks at the criminal history of the defendant to see if they are legally appropriate. If they feel that they are, the State will send an offer to include drug court participation to the defendant’s attorney. The attorney will then discuss the offer with the defendant to determine if participation is in the defendant’s best interest.