Accountability Courts Standards Approved

By Judge Brenda Weaver, Chair, Judicial Council Accountability Court Committee

Through the efforts of Judge Jeff Bagley, Superior Court, Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit, and Judge Jack Partain, Superior Courts, Conasauga Judicial Circuit, and the members of the Standards Subcommittee, felony drug court standards and treatment standards have been approved by the Judicial Council Accountability Court Committee.  On September 21, 2012, the Committee presented the Standards for Accountability Courts to the Judicial Council.

The standards are based upon the ten key components for drug courts with specific objectives detailed under each. The adoption of these standards will ensure that all drug courts that receive state grants will adhere to the same performance measures.
 
Basic Requirements for Drug Court

A single Superior Court Judge or Senior Superior Court Judge must preside over an individual felony drug court program. However, a judge from another class of court may be the presiding judge of a felony drug court program if that judge is specially designated as such by the Chief Judge of the judicial circuit in which the court operates and is approved for such by the Judicial Council Accountability Court Committee. The presiding judge must attend and participate in all pre-court staff meetings.

The standards also require that the court conduct a minimum of two status hearings per month in the first phase of felony drug court programs, with frequency of status hearings based on participant needs and benefits. Status hearings should be held no less than once per month during the last phase of the program. The judge, to the extent possible, should strive to spend an average of three minutes or greater with each participant during status review.

Data Collection

Data collection is an essential component of the proposed drug court standards.  Participant progress, success, and satisfaction should be monitored on a regular basis, and a process and outcomes evaluation should be conducted by an independent evaluator within three years of implementation of a drug court program.  Feedback from participant surveys, review of participant data, and findings from evaluations should be used to make any necessary modifications to program operations, procedures, and practices. 

Courts must collect, at a minimum, a mandatory set of performance measures determined by the Judicial Council Accountability Court Committee.  The minimum performance measures shall include recidivism, the number of moderate and high risk participants, the drug testing results, the drug testing failures, the number of days of continuous sobriety, the units of service (number of court sessions, the number of days the participant receives inpatient treatment), the participant employment status, the successful participant completion of the program (graduations), and the unsuccessful participant completions (terminations, voluntary withdrawals, etc.).

The Committee has also set out standards for staff training and for partnerships to be encouraged with the local community, including those that will provide guidance, fundraising assistance, and feedback to the drug court program.

Mental Health Court standards have not been developed to the extent as has those for drug courts, but the committee is using the drug court standards as a model for mental health courts.  The committee will be refine mental health court standards as more information on best practices are received. 

The goal of the Committee is to provide consistency and allow for an accurate determination of successful methodologies and programs.  The standards were approved by the Judicial Council at its September 21, 2012 meeting in Forsyth, GA.

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