Thursday, September 4, 2014

State Attorney's Message: Juvenile Drug Court

By Mark A. Ober

When a child becomes involved with drugs, it can have a ripple effect throughout many lives. School, friends, and family are all negatively impacted. The future of the child is at risk. The child may even be caught committing crimes. This can be an opportunity to intervene and make a positive impact.

There are currently over 2,600 drug courts operating in the United States. The first drug court was created in 1989.  Drug courts combine drug treatment with court monitoring and intervention in an attempt to reduce recidivism. Although more than half of the drug courts are designed for adults, there are drug courts serving juveniles as well.  Juvenile drug courts are based on the same model as adult drug courts. The drug court model combines treatment with court monitoring.

In 1996, Hillsborough County established a Juvenile Drug Court. This program was the first of its kind in Florida. It is a diversion program; if a juvenile successfully completes the program, the charges are dismissed. A juvenile may be eligible for drug court if he or she has committed a drug-related offense or if the juvenile has a history of substance abuse. Juveniles may be referred to Juvenile Drug Court by the Juvenile Assessment Center, the Hillsborough County School District, the Juvenile Arbitration Program, or when they appear before a regular juvenile division judge.

The Juvenile Drug Court program is usually 12 months long, but this can vary based on the treatment needs of the juvenile. Upon entering drug court, the juvenile will complete a contract that sets forth the requirements expected of the juvenile while in drug court. The juvenile is required to participate in treatment, submit to random urine tests, and abstain from using drugs or alcohol. A juvenile participating in drug court is expected to work toward additional positive goals that will help sustain the juvenile’s sobriety. This includes attending school or maintaining full-time employment.

The court monitors ongoing compliance with regular court hearings. During those court hearings, the court is updated on the juvenile’s progress. The court provides positive feedback to those juveniles who are complying with the program. Although failure to comply with the requirements of drug court can result in the juvenile being terminated from the program, the court also has the option of imposing less severe and more immediate consequences, such as a finding of contempt. The use of these lesser sanctions is intended to hold the juvenile accountable and provide an incentive to make positive behavioral changes while in the program.

The ultimate goal of the Juvenile Drug Court is to create a safer community. By combining drug treatment with a program of personal accountability, drug courts can reduce recidivism. As your state attorney, my goal is to protect the citizens of Hillsborough County.