Drug Court Gets Attention from Around the World

Rashida Mims, Special Assistant, Treatment Program

This year, DC’s Drug Court, celebrates its 20th anniversary. In this time, Drug Court has evolved into a model program, as is evidenced by the steady stream of visitors from around the world who come to observe and study how it works. Visitors have included delegations of senior government officials, policy advisors, researchers and practitioners from Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Netherlands, Mexico, Kazakhstan and most recently, Vietnam. Considering that there are more than 2,500 drug courts throughout the country, we feel most honored when DC’s Drug Court is chosen as the one to visit.

During our most recent visit, the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, along with 21 members of his staff, took part in a full-day of activities. This included observing a Drug Court status hearing, a working lunch with representatives from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, DC Superior Court and PSA; and a site visit to the Harbor Light Center, one of the residential treatment centers utilized by Drug Court participants. Through interpreters and electronic translation devices, the group was able to engage in Q&A discussions. They were especially interested in what happens during treatment, how long  the clients are in treatment, and  our success rates. They also seemed fully engaged as a Drug Court graduate shared his experiences and told his story of how Drug Court “saved” his life.

In 1993, Drug Court (formally known as the Superior Court Drug Intervention Program) started as an experiment to test court-based interventions for drug-involved defendants. As a partnership between the DC Superior Court and PSA, Drug Court provides a sanction and incentive-based substance abuse treatment program for certain defendants charged with misdemeanor and non-violent felonies. Since its inception, PSA has provided pretrial supervision, case management, addiction treatment services, assessment, and drug testing for Drug Court participants, as well as directed court representation during Drug Court hearings and Drug Court team meetings.

DC’s Drug Court continuously strives to improve and has adopted evidence-based practices. It now embraces all of the “10 Key Components of Drug Court” as set forth by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. These 10 Key Components are: 1) integrating alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing; 2) use of a non-adversarial approach; 3) identifying eligible participants early in the process; 4) providing access to a continuum of care; 5) requiring frequent drug testing; 6) responding quickly to participants’ compliance; 7) using ongoing judicial interventions; 8) monitoring and evaluating program goals to gauge effectiveness; 9) employing continuing interdisciplinary education to promote effective planning, implementation and operations; and 10) forging partnerships among the court, public agencies and community based organizations to generate support and enhance Drug Court effectiveness.

These practices and commitment to quality are what continue to distinguish DC’s Drug Court as a model program.