Drug Courts & Other Problem-Solving Courts
Florida started the national drug court movement in 1989 by creating the first drug court in the United States in Miami-Dade County. Other types of problem-solving courts followed in the 1990s to assist individuals with specific needs and problems that were not or could not be adequately addressed in traditional courts. Problem-solving courts use the drug court model to help address specific issues that will benefit the individual, victim, and society. The specific issues may include, but are not limited to, drug abuse, mental illness, veteran’s issues, and domestic violence. Today, there are more than 1,000 problem-solving courts in the United States. There are 2,663 drug courts operating in every U.S. state and territory. For more information on drug courts, please visit the website for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals at www.nadcp.org.
In the years since Florida pioneered the drug court concept, numerous studies have confirmed that drug courts significantly reduce crime, provide better treatment outcomes, and produce better cost benefits than other criminal justice strategies.
The Florida Legislature has a long history of proactively addressing drug-related crime. In 1993, the Legislature provided for pretrial substance abuse education and treatment intervention programs for eligible nonviolent felony offenders.1 These pretrial intervention programs are the precursors to the many forms of drug courts that exist today in Florida. In 2001, the Legislature stated its intent that drug courts be implemented “in each judicial circuit in an effort to reduce crime and recidivism, abuse and neglect cases, and family dysfunction by breaking the cycle of addiction which is the most predominant cause of cases entering the justice system. The Legislature recognizes that the integration of judicial supervision, treatment, accountability, and sanctions greatly increases the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment.”2
The drug court program team within the Office of the State Courts Administrator's, Office of Court Improvement was created to foster the development and expansion of the successful drug court concept throughout Florida. By identifying funding sources, developing training materials, providing technical assistance, creating an information exchange, and working with the legislature, the drug court team helped make the Legislatures intent to have drug courts in every judicial circuit a reality. As of January 2013, Florida has 104 drug courts operating in the felony, misdemeanor, juvenile delinquency, and family dependency divisions of the court.
In 2009, the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) released a study on adult post-adjudicatory drug courts in Florida which showed that individuals who successfully completed post-adjudicatory drug courts were 80% less likely to go to prison than the comparison group. The study also reported to the Legislature that drug courts could save Florida more money by targeting nonviolent, prison-bound offenders. The Florida Legislature appropriated Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant stimulus funds to expand adult post-adjudicatory drug courts. As of February 27, 2013, this program has diverted 2,134 nonviolent offenders from prison resulting in more than $8.7 million in prison costs avoided by the state of Florida.3
Mental Health Courts
The origin of mental health courts stemmed from situations similar to those preceding the development of drug courts – repeat offenders in need of treatment services. With available community resources dwindling for people with serious mental illness (SMI), the courts were seeing more repeat offenders with untreated mental illness. Florida’s jails and prisons are not designed, equipped, or funded to deal with SMI, so the use of the drug court model/problem-solving court model was a logical response.
As of July 2012, Florida has 25 mental health courts in operation. Like drug courts, mental health courts hold offenders accountable while linking them to the treatment services they need to address their mental illness. Monitoring and treating offenders with SMI in a mental health court is more effective, efficient, and less expensive than the remedies available through traditional justice system approaches.
Veterans' Treatment Courts
Veterans’ treatment courts are designed to assist defendants with the complex treatment needs associated with substance abuse, mental health, and other issues unique to the traumatic experience of war. Some veterans returning home from war find it difficult to assimilate back into the community. Veterans with untreated substance abuse or mental health illnes, including those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), may find it even harder to return to their home lives which can sometimes lead to criminal activity. Veterans’ treatment courts are based on the drug court/problem-solving court model yet they rely heavily on the use of mentors – other veterans in the community who volunteer to support defendants with one-to-one time and attention. Veterans’ treatment courts leverage resources available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to serve these offenders treatment needs. As of November 2012 Florida has eight veterans treatment courts in operation, two of which are operating as a part of drug court and/or mental health court.
Florida Drug Courts and Other Problem-Solving Courts Quick Facts
1 Section 948.08(6), Florida Statutes (1993).