Top 10 Things to Know About Therapeutic Courts
This guide provides an overview of therapeutic alternatives available in the criminal justice system. Many individuals charged with a crime either aren't told about or have never even realized that there are restorative justice options out there that don't result in a conviction or jail.
What is a Therapeutic Alternative to Traditional Prosecution?The criminal justice system has, over the past few decades, realized that convicting individuals of a crime without providing the opportunity for rehabilitation quite simply doesn't work. With recidivism rates sky high, many jurisdictions realized the value, both monetarily and to community safety, of creating programs that meet defendants where they are, connect them with services and treatment, and incentivize participation and compliance by offering either a dismissal of a charge, less time spent in custody, or other opportunities that offer a benefit to the defendant.
In a therapeutic alternative, the focus is not on routine courtroom procedures, trials, evidence, conviction, and sentencing. Instead, the focus is on healing. The basic concept comes from two widely known theories: Social Justice and Restorative Justice. Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. Restorative justice is an approach to justice in which the response to a crime is to organize a meeting between the victim and the offender, sometimes with representatives of the wider community.
With these two concepts in mind, therapeutic alternative programs aim to heal the community by healing the individual. All therapeutic alternative programs have one thing in common: they require the participant to comply with conditions, usually involving treatment.
Different Courts Have Different OptionsNo one court will have every single alternative out there available for the accused. Many programs are crime-specific, or diagnosis-specific. Some jurisdictions, such as King County, WA and Snohomish County, WA, offer a multitude of alternatives, whereas smaller jurisdictions such as Garfield County, WA, do not.
According to the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), there are 24 Adult Drug Treatment Courts, 13 Juvenile Drug Courts, 18 Family Treatment Courts, 7 DUI Courts, 1 DV court, 13 Mental Health Courts, and 8 Veterans Treatment Courts in Washington. These figures do not account for non-court driven programs such as diversion, as well as the post-conviction Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative, or probation run services like deferred prosecution, deferred sentences, and community courts.
If you, or a loved one, is charged with a crime and is struggling with either substance use, mental illness, PTSD related to military service, or other stressors, getting in contact with an attorney who is knowledgable about alternatives is key. The most important step in the process is to have a discussion with a lawyer about the options and whether or not one of the available alternatives is a right fit.
Just like how different jurisdictions have different court, each court or program has different eligibility criteria and a skilled attorney will be able to walk you through whether or not you or your loved one qualifies.
Drug CourtA specially designed court calendar or docket, the purposes of which are to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among nonviolent substance abusing offenders and to increase the offender's likelihood of successful habilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicially supervised treatment, mandatory periodic drug testing, community supervision, and use of appropriate sanctions and other rehabilitation services (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2005).
Adult Drug Treatment Courts are typically only found in Superior Courts and applicants must be charged with a qualifying felony offense. RCW 2.30 provides the basic criteria for programs, as well as what types of criminal histories and present charges are excluded from entry.
Each Drug Court is different, but the main structure is as follows: drug courts strive to follow the National Association of Drug Court Professionals "Best Practice Standards." These standards indicate that the target population for drug court participants are those identified as "high risk and high needs." Drug Courts want to avoid over treating individuals who are low risk and the validated studies have shown that high risk offenders have better outcomes. In order to identify whether or not an applicant is "high risk and high needs," the drug court will have applicants go through a screening process that usually involves a risk and needs assessment, a chemical dependency evaluation, and occasionally a mental health evaluation.
There are two types of criminal drug court formats: post-adjudicative and pre-adjudicative. Pre-adjudicative versions take place before a plea has happened and incentivize participants by promising to dismiss the charges upon successful completion of the program. Post-adjudicative versions take place after the applicant has been convicted and will incentivize participants by withholding imposition of the sentence until completion and often setting aside the standard sentencing range entirely, resulting in little to no jail time.
Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA)DOSA is a partnership program between the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and county superior courts, which has been authorized by the legislature as an alternative to a standard range sentence for felony offenses.
There are two types of DOSA programs: Residential and Prison.
A Residential DOSA is a 24 month program that is done entirely out of custody. Eligible individuals must have a standard sentencing range of between 12 months and a day and 24 months. The offender must be evaluated for chemical dependency, as the program requires completion of 3-6 months of inpatient treatment. At the time of this writing, DOC uses ABHS as their residential treatment provider. Participants are also require to engage in treatment services in the community once they return from ABHS and maintain good contact and regular checks with their Community Custody Officer (CCO). The basic structure of the program is the same across the board, but its implementation is different depending on what jurisdiction one is in. For instance, King and Snohomish counties have a DOSA program which requires participants to appear regularly at "DOSA Review Hearings," whereas other jurisdictions do not have formal programs and all compliance reports from CCOs are filed with the sentencing judge.
A prison-based DOSA is an in-custody program where offenders can reduce the overall length of their prison sentence to one half the mid-point of the standard range followed by an equal amount of community custody if they followthrough with in-custody treatment and their DOC conditions.
Therapeutic Alternatives to ProsecutionSnohomish County in particular offers a program through the Prosecutor's Office called Therapeutic Alternatives to Prosecution. The Prosecutor's Office has skilled counselors who meet and assess eligible applicants for entry to the program and work closely with each individual defendant who enters the program to enroll in treatment, obtain and maintain employment, complete community service hours, pay restitution, and make overall positive life changes. The program is a contract between the prosecutor's office and the individual defendant. Procedurally, the State continues your case with a signed waiver of trial and a trial continuance for between 1-3 years, depending on how long program completion is taking. At the successful completion of the program, the State dismisses the charge(s). Only certain offenses are eligible for this program and the prosecutor's office has other case-specific caps, such as the amount of restitution, number of charges, prior criminal history, and whether or not the individual has chemical dependency or mental health challenges to overcome. The TAP program only allows entry to individuals who either have substance use disorder or mental illness.
DiversionPretrial Diversion is very similar to TAP, which is discussed above. In Snohomish County, individuals charge with a felony are eligible for Diversion if they have minimal criminal history, regardless of substance use disorder or mental illness. Among other program conditions, participants are required to engage in treatment/educational/employment pursuits, perform community service, and pay restitution in full.
Like TAP, the participant must stipulate to the admissibility of police reports; sign an admission of guilt; and agree to waive trial period limits on the charge to preserve the ability to prosecute the crime should they be terminated from the program. When a participant successfully completes the program, the charge is dismissed.
Mental Health Court and Veterans Treatment CourtModeled after drug courts and developed in response to the overrepresentation of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system, mental health courts divert select defendants with mental illnesses into judicially supervised, community-based treatment. Currently, all mental health courts are voluntary. Defendants are invited to participate in the mental health court following a specialized screening and assessment, and they may choose to decline participation. For those who agree to the terms and conditions of community-based supervision, a team of court staff and mental health professionals works together to develop treatment plans and supervise participants in the community. (Council of State Governments, 2005).
Drug Courts around the country have seen rising numbers of veterans in their programs and sought to offer specialized services to address their unique needs. The Veterans Treatment Court model use veterans as mentors to help defendants engage in treatment and counseling as well as partner with local Veterans Affairs offices to ensure that participants receive proper benefits. Veterans Treatment Courts have garnered national media attention and widespread interest in the Drug Court field. There are currently over thirty states looking to implement a Veterans Treatment Court with many more sure to follow.
Deferred Prosecution and DUI CourtsA DUI court is a distinct post-conviction court system dedicated to changing the r of the alcohol-dependent repeat offender arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). The goal of the DUI court is to protect public safety by using the drug court model to address the root cause of impaired driving: alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Variants of DUI courts include drug courts that also take DUI offenders, which are commonly referred to as "hybrid" DUI courts or DUI/drug courts. (Loeffler and Huddleston, 2003). DUI courts often enhance their close monitoring of offenders using home and field visits, as well as technological innovations such as Ignition Interlock devices and the SCRAM transdermal alcohol detection device (Harberts and Waters, 2006).
Deferred SentenceA deferred sentence is a sentence imposed after a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt at trial that is withheld until after a defendant has completed a period of probation. If the defendant fulfills the conditions of probation, a judge may then vacate the sentence and guilty plea, clearing the incident from their record. If the defendant violates probation, he or she must serve the full sentence immediately
Community CourtsA community court is a problem solving court that addresses quality of life or “nuisance” cases and takes a more proactive approach to public safety. There are several different models for community courts. Some meet in traditional courthouses and others meet in storefronts, former schools, or churches. For example, King County Community Court in Redmond is a collaborative effort between King County District Court, King County Library System, City of Redmond and community service providers. They also utilize public-private partnerships, such as with local grocery stores and community groups to provide lunches for participants. Like drug courts and mental health courts, community court completion may result in complete dismissal of one's charges.