Seeing eye to eye participant and staff perspectives on drug courts
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Seeing Eye to Eye?: Participant and Staff Perspectives on Drug Courts. Amanda B. Cissner and Donald J. Farole, Jr., Ph.D Center for Court Innovation 2006 Twelfth Annual Drug Court Training Conference National Association of Drug Court Professionals Seattle, Washington June 22, 2006

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Seeing Eye to Eye?: Participant and Staff Perspectives on Drug Courts

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Seeing Eye to Eye?:Participant and StaffPerspectives on Drug Courts

Amanda B. Cissner and Donald J. Farole, Jr., Ph.D

Center for Court Innovation

2006 Twelfth Annual Drug Court Training Conference

National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Seattle, Washington June 22, 2006

Contact e-mail: Amanda Cissner ([email protected])

Previous Literature

  • Drug Courts Work:

    • Drug courts have been shown to be largely effective in retaining participants in treatment and in reducing new arrests

  • How Drug Courts Work:

    • Legal Coercion

    • Early integration

    • Treatment components

    • The Judge

    • Sanctions

Previous Literature (Continued)

  • Goldkamp, White, and Robinson (2001)

    • Focus groups in six adult drug courts

    • Soliciting feedback from drug court participants

    • Topic areas in our study drew on Goldkamp et al.

    • Many findings in common

Background & Objectives

  • Goal: explore perspectives of participants and staff about drug court design and operations

    • Are the views of those who manage drug courts shared by program participants?


  • Focus groups among participants with a subsequent group among staff of three New York State drug courts:

    • One urban court

    • One suburban court

    • One semi-rural court

  • Individual interviews with judges at two sites (judge participated in focus group at third site)

Outline of Protocol

  • Motivation to Enter Drug Court

  • Perceptions about the Program & Staff

  • What Works?: Succeeding in Drug Court

  • The Courtroom Experience

  • Suggestions to Improve Drug Courts

Summary of Key Findings

  • Participants and staff agree on many key issues about Drug Court:

    • It is coercive

    • A fair, sympathetic judge is critical; attorneys less critical

    • It motivates participants to get treatment they would not otherwise receive

    • All viewed it positively but had suggestions for improvement

Motivation to Enter Drug Court

  • Participants and staff agree: drug court is largely involuntary/coercive

    • It was forced. (P)

    • It was this or jail so we just picked this. (P)

    • They normally opt for treatment not realizing what the treatment will entail. (S)

Motivation to Enter Drug Court (Continued)

  • Some participants also indicated that the drug court reached them at the right time

    • I always inevitably wound up in front of another judge. And I was just tired of it, you know, I was beaten… I was beaten down emotionally, mentally, physically.(P)

  • At some point, for many participants, the motivation seemed to change

Perceptions: Expectations

  • Participants generally say they know what is expected of them, but some staff are skeptical:

    • This is not the Get Out of Jail Free card [they] thought it would be. (S)

  • Rules of drug court are also seen as generally fair.

Participant Perceptions about Staff

  • Court/Case management staff viewed positively, particularly in two sites.

    • They go beyond their job. You know, it’s not just a job to them.(P)

  • Attorneys were not perceived as important or involved in all sites:

    • [My attorney] didn’t deal with me at all. (P)

Perceptions about the Judge

  • In two sites, participants and staff had similar, positive perceptions of judge.

  • Qualities cited:

    • By participants: fair, sympathetic, caring/concerned

    • By staff: caring, consistent, takes the time to understand drug use, relies on clinical team

Perceptions about the Judge (Continued)

  • Very reasonable guy. I used to hate him, because he kept locking me up all the time, you know. But once you’re doing the right thing, it’s a different world over there. (P)

  • The other thing [participants] say too, all the time, is how much the judge cares, that they can tell that the judge really cares about them, that they are people, that they’re not just faces, they’re not people that no one cares about. (S)

  • If there needs to be a sanction, she’ll do the sanction. If it needs to be a severe sanction, she’ll do the sanction, but she doesn’t do it just as a blatant thing cause she can because she’s the judge. (S)

Perceptions about Treatment Programs

  • In two sites, most participant criticism directed at treatment programs:

    • Programs do not apply to them

    • Scheduling

    • Money

  • Staff echoed these concerns

    - I say this knowing that our choices are severely limited, but we, to the best of our ability hold the providers we use accountable to provide at least, some level of quality service and if they don’t, we don’t use them anymore or we sanction the program. (S)

What Works?: Succeeding in Drug Court

  • Legal Leverage (Jail)

    • You want to keep your freedom, at least part of it, or you don’t have none. (P)

  • Monitoring/Drug Testing

    • If you’re drug addicts and you’re on regular probation, how are they ever going to catch you? They’re not going to test. (P)

  • Motivation

    • It is a motivation … to do what you need to do (P)

The Courtroom Experience

  • Appearing before judge is daunting

    • I used to come to court nervous. I used to smoke a cigarette. It might be my last cigarette … My stomach was in knots. (P)

  • Some said their nervousness faded when they were doing well

    -[The judge is] on you when… it’s your first, second time there… He gets better though, once he gets to know you, he knows you’re coming up clean every time. He gets to be more friend than enemy.(P)

The Courtroom Experience (Continued)

  • Participants appreciated positive feedback from the judge

  • Participants cognizant of importance of seeing other participants in courtroom:

    • She locked him up for absences … it could happen to me same way just by doing the same thing he did. That is something we have to understand. (P)

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Participants:

    • Improve treatment (more programs, greater variety of groups, better scheduling, better counselors)

    • More services (employment/job training, housing)

    • Transportation issues

  • Staff:

    • Training in addiction/treatment (for legal staff)

    • Revamp methadone policies

    • More services for Spanish-speaking population

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