No.11: A Drug Court Judge; the First Among Equals

August 18, 2014

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About  twenty years ago, I described the role of the Drug Court Judge in the first Drug Court manual to be published (J. Tauber, Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual, CJER; 1994). I wrote, “A drug Court provides direction and focus through the leadership of a single judge”.  A statement writ large, and in retrospect, an overstatement of the importance of the drug court judge. For while the drug court judge is an important reason for the success of the drug court, he or she acts more as an enabler than director.  The major actor is “community” itself.

In effect, the drug court judge creates an environment in which successful drug court “communities” can thrive; where a “drug court team” comes together to institutionalize community-based structures for long-term success, and where a “community” of drug court practitioners and participants themselves exert systemic control over substantial numbers of serious drug offenders. So I suppose, if I were to write a definition of a Drug Court Judge today, it might simply read, ” a judge is the first among equals in a “drug court community”.

I believe that The Community-Based Drug Court is already in place, to a substantial extent, in every Drug Court and Problem-Solving Court in this country. We don’t always recognize the characteristics that define these court programs as community-involved, institutionalized, or systemic, but they are there. And while not all have moved rapidly towards this Community-Based model, I am convinced that the most successful are doing so.



Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 11

June 17,2012

Evidence Based Sentencing as a Hybrid System : Part 11

Evidence-Basd Sentencing Systems have been described in this series as problem-solving structures. More accurately they are hybrid courts that share the characteristics of traditional  sentencing courts as well as rehabilitative problem solving courts. While they emphasize the need for collaboration, they often start off in a traditional adversarial proceeding. This is particularly true when individuals are convicted of serious or violent offenses. In those cases, the court correctly views their primary responsibility as protector of the victim and community. Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems, as well as more traditional sentencing courts, incapacitate the violent and/or serious felon so they cannot continue their criminal activity, sentence to deter others from committing similar acts, and provide retribution against the offender who has done serious harm to the victim and community. Prison is a probability and even a necessity for many of these serious and violent offenders.

Evidence-Based Sentencing Courts move into problem-solving mode as the felon prepares to reenter the community. In Evidence-Based Sentencing Courts, judges and their teams develop effective structures that apply to all offenders sentenced in their jurisdiction (not just the non-violent). In fact, the structure inherent in an evidence-based sentencing team is designed to hold the offender, as well as collaborating agencies and community programs accountable for their effectiveness or lack of same. At the time Drug Court and Problem-Solving Courts were first  being developed, it was noted that, “In a “structurally accountable system”, participating agencies share program responsibilities and are accountable to each other for program effectiveness, with each participant directly linked to, dependent on, and responsible to the others (J Tauber, California Center For Judicial Education and Research Journal, Drug Courts: a Judicial Manual, Summer 1994; click on facimile on the left to review Section 30; on Structural Accountability).

In other words, If evidence-based sentencing practices are employed, coordination among relevant agencies and community organizations remains essential. Sentencing tracks are required to more effectively sentence and monitor offenders with very different risks and needs. While the sentences may be very different, the same level of coordination and collaboration is required when sentencing, monitoring, and rehabilitating the serious and/or violent offenders, as it is for the non-violent offender.


Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 4

 April 23.2012

Judge-Driven Sentencing Systems: Part 4

Sometimes it’s important to restate the obvious. The courts are the traditional place for sentencing and monitoring the supervision of offenders under their jurisdiction. Judges have husbanded those powers like no others. It’s therefore somewhat disquieting to find some states turning sentencing jurisdiction over to other agencies of government, even ones that are considered partners within the criminal justice system.

Nearly twenty years ago, when “Drug Courts: A Judicial Manual”, was published (JTauber, California Center for Judicial Education and Research,1994), it was noted that future drug courts (and ostensibly other courts modeled after drug courts) would need  to create fully integrated systems centered on the court, to create  the next generation of effective drug courts.

But even in a system built on collaboration and partnership, it was noted that “The courts stand in a unique position among service agencies; they are at the fulcrum, where agencies meet. Participating agencies are used to working closely with or under the supervision of the courts” (p.29).

Two decades later, whether applied to drug abuse or recidivism, those words hold true. Drug Courts and other special courts have proven the efficacy of judge-driven problem-solving courts.  Handing over sentencing and/or monitoring of community supervision to probation or parole, custody or community-based agencies, isn’t smart or efficient, or cost-effective. Special Sentencing Courts need to work closely with their criminal justice and community partners, but also need to remain the focus of that circle of intervenors, retaining final control over the sentencing and supervision of the felon.

The next segment will look at the importance of creating  sentencing tracks.

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