One of SAMHSA’s strategic initiatives focuses on Trauma and Justice, thus recognizing the links among experiences of trauma, mental health, and substance use. This strategic initiative acknowledges trauma as a public health problem with widespread and devastating impacts and seeks to work with community and federal systems to implement trauma-informed practices. Part of the strategy aims to “expand alternative responses and diversion for people with behavioral health problems and trauma histories within the criminal and juvenile justice system” (Objective 2.4.1). One such alternative response is to support the creation and further development of juvenile drug courts.
What Are Juvenile Drug Courts?
Juvenile drug courts were established in the mid-1990s, following in the footsteps of adult drug courts established in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Juvenile drug courts aim to divert young people from incarceration by creating a regimen that typically includes treatment, court supervision, drug testing, and family/community linkages. Though youth drug courts evolved out of those established for adults, there are some key differences. In addition to addiction treatment, they typically take into account family involvement, coordination with school systems, and community partnerships.
As of 2011, there were roughly 460 juvenile drug courts in the U.S. and statistics suggest that they are responding to a significant need in their communities. Nearly one in five youth (17%) entering the juvenile justice system meet criteria for substance abuse disorders, a number that rises to 39 percent when those in detention are included. After adjudication, nearly half (47%) of youth put in secure placements have substance abuse disorders. When youth who meet criteria for other behavioral health disorders are also counted, the total numbers rise as follows: 35 percent of teens have mental health or substance abuse disorders at intake; 59 percent in detention have mental health or substance abuse disorders; and 64 percent in secure post-adjudication placements meet criteria for a behavioral health disorder (Butts, 2011).
Approaches to Creating Juvenile Drug Courts
In 2003, the National Drug Court Institute and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Justices convened a wide range of representatives involved in juvenile justice and drugs courts. Together, this group identified 16 strategies for success among juvenile drug courts, including:
These strategies offer a framework for those planning, operating, and evaluating drug courts. While describing each of these components is beyond the scope of this article, the final report Juvenile Drug Courts: Strategies in Practice describes each in extensive detail. See https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/197866.pdf for more detail.
- Collaborative planning
- Clearly defined target population and eligibility criteria
- Judicial involvement and supervision
- Monitoring and evaluation
- Community partnerships
- Comprehensive treatment planning
- Developmentally appropriate services
- Gender-appropriate services
- Cultural competence
- Focus on strengths
- Family engagement
- Educational linkages
- Drug testing
- Goal-oriented incentives and sanctions
Juvenile drug court models also offer the opportunity to incorporate evidence-based models of treatment into the rehabilitation plan for youth. For example, in a yearlong randomized trial of 161 youth, researchers learned that drug courts were more effective than family court services in decreasing rates of adolescent criminal and substance use behaviors. When coupled with evidence-based treatment interventions (e.g., multisystemic therapy), these outcomes were further enhanced (Henggeler et al., 2006).
Recognizing the importance of drug courts in providing a continuum of services to break cycles of criminal behavior, alcohol/drug use, and incarceration, SAMHSA has a number of programmatic initiatives and funding opportunities focused on juvenile drug courts. For example, in their Reclaiming Futures Initiative (http://www.reclaimingfutures.org/model_problem), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes the following:
“Reclaiming Futures offer courts the ability to detect and assess substance abuse in youth and to provide complementary services and support. By coordinating the efforts of courts, service providers, community groups and individual volunteers, the program empowers communities to help young people break the cycle of substance abuse and crime. The program uses a six-step model, including: initial screening, initial assessment, service coordination, initiation, engagement, and completion.” (http://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf/newsroom/newsroom-content/2010/03/reclaiming-futures.html).
Communities that piloted the Reclaiming Futures
approach reported significant improvements in juvenile justice and substance abuse treatment, according to a study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (see http://www.reclaimingfutures.org/publications_reclaimingfutures
). Juvenile drug courts offer young people opportunities to engage in prevention, treatment, and linkages to the community—giving them an opportunity to lead healthy lives free of addiction. For more information, check out the resources below.
Butts, Jeffrey A. (2011, February 16). How Prevalent are Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in Juvenile Justice? The Answer May Surprise You
. Reclaiming Futures. Portland, OR: Portland State University. Retrieved from: http://www.reclaimingfutures.org/blog/node/1461
Henggeler, S.W., Halliday-Boykins, C.A., Cunningham, P.B., Randall, J., Shapiro, S.B., & Chapman, J.E. (2006). Juvenile drug court: enhancing outcomes by integrating evidence-based treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74
(1), 42–54. Retrieved from Juvenile Drug Courts: Strategies in Practice: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/197866.pdf
National Institute of Justice – Overview of Drug Courts. (n.d.). Drug Courts [website]. Retrieved from: http://www.nij.gov/topics/courts/drug-courts/Pages/welcome.aspx
SAMHSA Strategic Initiative on Trauma and Justice. (n.d.). Strategic Initiative #2: Trauma and Justice [Word document]. Retrieved from: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA11-4629/04-TraumaAndJustice.pdfCheck out "Related Items" to the right of the screen.