Problem Solving Courts



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In Butte County, we suffer from constant budget challenges, significant levels of poverty, and unemployment, a mixed suburban and rural geographic structure, and a methamphetamine problem reaching back over 40 years.  To address these problems, we have had to work together.  You will see on this website other innovative solutions to our problems, notably the CART Program (child abuse response team) and the DEC Program, (Drug Endangered Children).   

Each of these programs evolved out of a sense that working together and doing “what works” was better than trying to solve problems apart.  In our adult criminal justice system, we have developed some problem solving courts.  Currently, we operate a DUI Court, a Drug Court, a DV Court, and the Comprehensive Treatment Court (Proposition 36-SACPA).  In each of these court programs, the DA has been an integral force in the development of the protocol, policy, and staffing.

These are “no nonsense” courts.  Public safety remains the paramount focus.  While some of what we do may confuse the average viewer, the Court utilizes state of the art research to motivate and maintain people through their probationary period.   Sanctions are applied quickly for all non compliant behavior.  Praise and incentives are used to reinforce lawful and good behavior.  The Probation Department conducts frequent, random and OBSERVED drug testing.  All members of the team are able to utilize immediate intermediate sanctions and incentives, (in addition to treatment responses).  The Court conducts regular reviews to monitor progress.

Our courts are a team effort between the DA, Public Defenders, Sheriff, local police departments, the Board of Supervisors, Probation, Behavioral Health, private treatment providers, the Courts, and the community. 

The Problem Solving Courts has evolved over the years as research evolves and “best practices” emerge.  Many of our participants have very significant criminal records, severe addiction, and very high criminogenic traits.  Our team uses motivational interviewing, and specialized techniques to engage methamphetamine addicted clients. 

These include increasing engagement strategies, utilizing a placebo effect, and repeating simple engagement messages frequently (from all sources) to make up for the acute memory loss experienced by methamphetamine users in early recovery.  We follow the 10 Key Components of Drug Courts, and apply research based principles of sanctions and incentives to modify client behavior.  This improves our outcomes and promotes public safety by returning participants to the community as healthy citizens. Over the years, we have developed many unique forms for the Courts. 

Butte County Drug Court

Butte County has had an adult criminal Drug Court since 1995.  For many years we served as a Mentor Court training site for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, and the National Drug Court Institute.  The target population is high end convicted felons who have addiction as the primary source of their criminality.  Our caseload is capped at 100 felons. (50 participants per probation officer).   Our clients are between 18-65 years old, 88% of them report methamphetamine as their primary drug of choice.  We serve a great many of the persons who are convicted under the Drug Endangered Children protocol.    If we had sufficient treatment and supervision resources to increase the drug court, we could easily move to 500 felons.   The drug court has had three judges, and hundreds of program completions.   

Here are the basic facts behind a drug court model:

¨    Sending folks simply to jail or prison creates “institutional remission” but does nothing to change their underlying addiction problem.  Thus, upon release, the addiction comes back as strong, or stronger, than before incarceration.  Recidivism rates are unacceptably high.[1]

¨    Sending folks to simple probation alone does not work.  The recidivism rate is unacceptably high. [2]

¨    Sending folks to simple treatment alone does not work. [3]

¨    The length of treatment is a MINIMUM of 1 year before treatment is truly effective.

¨    Using the power of the court and team to coerce participants into treatment, and to STAY THERE, does work.

DUI Court

Variously called the ReVia Project, HIDE, and DUI Court, this court evolved from the recognition that certain repeat high level drinking drivers were driven by both addiction and criminality.  That is, they are both addicted AND they consistently choose to drive when they have been using alcohol or other drugs.  These offenders present a very clear and present danger to public safety.   Research demonstrates that drivers with a blood alcohol level of .15 or above are 385 times more likely to be involved in a crash[4].  Indeed, DUI crashes are 50% more likely to result in an injury or fatality and crashes in which alcohol was not involved.[5]     

This court differs from the Drug Court in one very significant way: community supervision.   The probation department conducts assertive field services, and the team tolerance for errors is much smaller.  This is because of the tremendous danger that drinking drivers present to the public.  Therefore, if a DUI Court participant is found with alcohol, or with a measurable amount of alcohol in their body, they are immediately taken into custody by the probation officer.  (California probation officers have arrest powers)  Field services are constant and testing is done at almost every point of contact.   Field services and home visits turn up some unfortunate findings.

For alcoholics, we pioneered the use of naltrexone in this court.  It is a wonderful therapeutic adjunct for alcohol and opiate treatment.  Indeed, it improved our outcomes significantly.  In addition to central case management, and field services, probation monitors the ingestion of compassionate use drugs such as naltrexone.  

Proposition 36-Comprehensive Treatment Court.

By passing Proposition 36, the voters of California sent a clear message that they wanted to send drug abusers to treatment as an alternative to simple incarceration for drug possession offenses.   As a team, we have taken that to heart and we have created one of the most effective, and innovative programs in the State. 

In Butte County, the Proposition 36 program has been implemented as a drug court “light” model.   It is drug court “light” because it does not last long enough, or have the legal structure that allows full implementation of research based practices required to successfully address addicted offenders in a drug court model. 

To offset these challenges we adapted our program to increase engagement strategies, and to maximize the brief period of time that participants are with us.  The goal is to give them the basics of recovery, and the tools to use to maintain recovery. 

Participants present as very ill, often with very serious criminogenic traits, and require more extensive services than are currently funded by this initiative.  In spite of this, the team has had impressive short term success.  Much of the credit for this goes to the innovations and dedication of the team, and the efforts of the participants.

In this court, we are careful to use the “courtroom as a classroom” teaching constantly about addiction, and how to maintain a life in recovery.  Sanctions and incentives research is applied to the best of our ability, given the limitations of the law.  The team has adapted a strategy of waiving, or holding strikes to in order to motivate behavior change.  Progress is measured in objective, point based reports and perfect scores earn a candy bar from the District Attorney.   Medallions are handed out for phase promotion, and certificates are given for program completion.  By utilizing early engagement, applause, many incentives, and some creative sanctions (such as working in our local landfill/dump as a penalty for non-compliance) we have truly worked to make the best of a difficult law.  The successes have been astounding.

Domestic Violence Court

Butte County has a post-adjudication DV Court.  In that court, persons on formal probation for Domestic Violence, as well as persons on the DV/OR program are brought back for frequent reviews in order to monitor their compliance with the mandates of PC 1203.097.  Here, the team consists of the probation department, and two probation department authorized domestic violence intervention providers, the Family Violence Education Program and New Beginnings.   Frequent reviews are used to encourage good performance and to correct people who are off track.  In addition, this court reviews persons who are convicted of child abuse.

[1]  29.9% of prisoners were rearrested within 6 months, and 67% were rearrested within 3 years.  (National Drug Court Institute, quoting a 15 state study cited by the US Dept. of Justice-Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002)  Relapse to drug abuse in the same population: 85% relapse in the first year, 95% relapse within 3 years.  (Treatment Research Institute, Pennsylvania)

[2] 7 out of 10 people in jail have had prior grants of probation  or incarceration, more than half are on an existing grant of probation when arrested.

[3]  Treatment attrition: 50-67% of referrals do not show up for intake, 40-80% of those who do show up drop out in 3 months, 90% drop out in 12 months, and specifically referred criminal justice referrals drop out at a rate of 70% in the first 2-6 months. (Treatment Research Institute, Pennsylvania)

[4] National Drug Court Institute, National Highway Transportation  Safety Administration, 2005

[5] National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 2005


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