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Utah Drug Courts Frequently Asked Questions

How do Drug Courts Differ from Traditional Courts?

Drug courts differ from traditional methods of adjudication not only in their methodology, but also in their results. These differences include: (Source: Office of Justice Programs: "Looking at a Decade of Drug Courts")

1. Level of Supervision
  • Traditional: Court involvement generally does not take place unless a probation violation has been reported. Therefore, follow-ups for urinalyses may not be as frequent.
  • Drug Courts: Throughout the duration of drug court, defendants attend required and regular treatment sessions and court appearances as well as undergo random urinalyses.
2. Reductions in Recidivism
  • Traditional: According to the United States Department of Justice, 45 percent of defendants convicted of drug possession will commit a similar crime within the next several years. In fact, the more often a defendant is arrested for a drug offense, the more likely they are to commit an additional offense.
  • Drug Courts: Drug court participants exhibit a lower recidivism rate ranging from five percent to 28 percent. The recidivism rate for drug court graduates is approximately four percent. Additionally, urinalysis reports for drug court participants are generally 90 percent negative.
3. Emphasis on Long Term Recovery
  • Traditional: In many cases, drug addiction may not be the only problem faced by offenders. Poor reading skills, low levels of self-respect, and troubled family relationships are just a few of the issues offenders face outside of the courts. Traditional processes may refer offenders to treatment programs but follow up is not generally conducted.
  • Drug Court: Drug courts often recommend that participants develop skills and connections that will allow them to survive following treatment. For example, some programs suggest that participants attain their GED or develop ties with community mentors. Many Utah drug courts also encourage alumni groups so that the recovery process will continue after treatment ends.

How do Drug Courts Work?

Qualified participants enter a guilty plea for their charges. This plea, called a "plea in abeyance", is put on hold while the offender is enrolled in drug court. Upon completion of the program, the guilty plea is withdrawn and the charges are dismissed. If however, the offender does not complete his/her treatment, they will face sentencing and imprisonment.

Drug courts seek to combat drug addiction through several means including:

  • Specific and clearly stated rules and expectations of performance. For example, if an offender misses three court appearances, they are automatically expelled from the program and the case is processed in the traditional manner.
  • Close supervision from the court and treatment providers. This surveillance includes frequent urine testing as well as scheduled appearances in court. This level of supervision is much higher than that of traditional treatments.
  • Consequences for noncompliance. Offenders who fail to complete necessary requirements will face sanctions including jail time or additional court appearances.

What sort of Treatment does Drug Court Entail?

Adult felony drug courts operate in four broad phases that take a minimum of 52 weeks to complete. The time frame for juvenile drug courts ranges from six to ten months minimum.

The requirements for these phases include participation in detoxification, inpatient and outpatient treatments, substance abuse groups, drug education classes, urine testing, court attendance, and completion of community service hours.

Why do we Need Drug Courts?

Many drug court participants, including first time offenders, have extensive histories of drug abuse often spanning 15 years or more. (Source: US. Department of Justice) This observation demonstrates the need for programs to reach the root of addiction in order to yield a long-term solution.

A recent study has reflected substantive increases in drug related crime rates within the State of Utah. For a ten-year period between 1989 and 1998, statistics revealed:

  • Drug sale and manufacturing arrests increased by 263 percent.
  • Drug arrests for possession increased by 360 percent.
  • Arrests for drug related crimes increased by 335 percent.

Additionally, nationwide estimates indicate that 80 percent of incarcerated individuals committed their crimes:

  • While under the influence of drugs,
  • Are in jail for drug-related crimes, and/or
  • Possess a history of drug/alcohol abuse.

What are the Different Kinds of Drug Courts?

There are three basic kinds of drug courts: adult criminal, dependency, and juvenile.

1) Adult criminal drug courts focus upon individual adult offenders charged with a felony drug crime.

2) Dependency drug courts hear cases where the state has alleged abuse or neglect on the part of the parent. These drug courts acknowledge that neglect and abuse may be a product of drug addiction. Subsequently, teams within this court hold parents accountable for their behavior by monitoring their treatment and encourage a focus on recovery so the family may be reunited.

2) Juvenile drug courts are aimed specifically at first time or second time juvenile offenders. Requirements of juvenile drug court include 60 hours of community service, written essays on the dangers of drug use, and on-going court supervision.

Who is Eligible for Drug Court?

Though restrictions may vary by location and program, adult felony drug court is generally available to:

  • Certain non-violent offenders charged with a felony drug crime. These crimes include forged prescriptions, possession with intent, and felony possession of a controlled substance.
  • Offenders with at least one previous drug conviction for which a sentence was given.
  • Offenders must be in the country legally.

There are certain offenders that are automatically excluded. These include:

  • Offenders who have past convictions for crimes of violence.
  • Offenders whose drugs of choice are either alcohol or marijuana
  • Offenders with pending charges or convictions of operating production facilities or distribution of controlled substances.
  • Offenders who lack the ability to manage the structure of the program such as those with disruptive behavior problems.

How is Treatment Paid for?

The State of Utah has devised a unique formula to pay for drug court treatment. In this formula, for every dollar spent on drug courts, 87 cents will go towards treatment and 13 cents will cover court costs. This ratio allows for lower costs to the participant who may pay anywhere from zero to a maximum of forty dollars a week for treatment.

Do Drug Courts Work?

Drug courts are proven to be more successful than traditional court processes. The following statistics attest to the effectiveness of this program:

  • Statistical evidence and research supports the proposition that drug courts reduce criminal activity. For example, a study conducted in 1998 by the University of Utah's School of Social Work revealed that recidivism rates for local drug court graduates remained at a steady seven percent. In contrast, the US Justice Department estimates that approximately 45 percent of offenders convicted of similar charges but whom have not participated in drug court will relapse and commit another crime. This recidivism rate is even higher, at 60 percent, for offenders imprisoned for their convictions.
  • Drug courts additionally work by saving tax-dollars. For example, drug court treatment for one offender costs approximately seven dollars per day. This is compared to the $50 dollar a day cost of incarcerating one individual in a state prison.

Additional benefits of drug courts include:

  • Healthier families: The US Department of Justice reports that over 500 drug free babies have been delivered to female drug court participants while enrolled in the program. Programs such as alumni support groups also emphasize long-term success and give participants the tools and experience necessary to rebuild their lives.
  • Increased availability of resources: The referral of less serious drug related cases to drug court, allows for personnel and services to be channeled to more serious cases or offenders posing greater risks to the community.
  • End to "revolving door" syndrome. By placing defendants into a demanding and court supervised program, a message is sent to community members that drug offenses are taken seriously and that those who violate the law regarding drug abuse will be dealt with. This adds credibility to prosecutors and police officers whose primary duty it is to uphold the law.

Where can I find Additional Resources/Information on Substance Abuse?

All of these agencies have provided additional treatment services for Third District Drug Court.

  • Odyssey House (odysseyhouse.org) Phone: 801-322-3222
  • Volunteers of America Detox/Pre-treatment (voaut.org) Phone: 801-363-9400
  • Cornerstone Counseling Center: 801-355-2846
  • Project Reality: 801-364-8080
  • Catholic Community Services: 801-977-9119. Extension 205
  • First Step House: 801-359-8862
  • Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Program: 801-322-1253
  • The Gathering Place: 801-226-2255
  • House of Hope: 801-487-3276

Also, the Utah State Division of Substance Abuse (hsdsa.state.ut.us) has a comprehensive directory of resources throughout the state as well as general information:

The Utah State Courts mission is to provide the people an open, fair, efficient, and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law.

Page Last Modified: 3/25/2011
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