FAS and Drug Court Programs

"A Drug Court is a special court given the responsibility to handle cases involving drug-addicted offenders through an extensive supervision and treatment program." Training for drug court programs is coordinated by The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), with headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. When NADCP was launched in 1994, there were only 12 drug courts in operation. As of the beginning of 2001, there are more than 1,000 drug courts in existence or in the planning process. Judge Jeffrey Tauber, founding president of NADCP, calls drug courts the most significant criminal-justice movement in a generation.

Drug court programs in the United States are operated under the U.S. Department of Justice, and have been up and running for over 10 years. Tribal Drug Courts are fairly new; the first planning workshops took place in September 1997. I participate in the technical assistance program by providing FAS presentations to tribal court professionals and by designing and presenting workshops for national conferences of various drug court organizations.

How effective are drug courts? According to government reports, 65% of men and 57% of women arrested for some crime are under the influence of drugs at the time of their arrest. In a regular court system, the offender is either jailed or put on probation, with little or no treatment available for substance abuse problems. The recidivism rate of defendants convicted of drug possession is 45%. However, the recidivism rate of graduates of drug court programs is less than 4%. The success of drug courts is a result of intense supervision of the participants, dealing promptly with relapse, strict monitoring of the programs, and integrating treatment with other rehabilitation services to promote long-term recovery of the participants.

Are drug courts expensive? The cost of drug court treatment for each participant is between $1,000 and $2,000, compared to $5,000 for a jail cell bed. Those who are employed at the time of arrest are able to continue employment, and many of those who are unemployed find employment while in the drug court program (98% employed upon graduation). As of June 2000, over 1,000 drug-free babies have been born to women in drug court, saving taxpayers between $250,000 (for baby exposed to drugs) and $1,400,000 (for baby exposed to alcohol) for each child born.

Prior government reports gave information that was misleading regarding participants with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Data was misinterpreted as meaning that 35% of participants have FAS. The report should have indicated that 35% of drug courts recognize FAS as an issue. Informal estimates indicate that the percentage of participants with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome disorders is much higher than 35%, perhaps 50%, perhaps more. Future drug court surveys will be developed to track this type of information.

While drug courts are not yet collecting data on participants with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome disorders, over one-third of drug courts recognize this as a special need among participants. Considering that most individuals with FAS disorders do not have a diagnosis, this information will be hard to track. Nevertheless, information that is collected shows that most drug court participants have symptoms associated with Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). Most participants in juvenile drug courts have psychological disorders like depression or attention deficit disorder (98%); most show immaturity of thought processes or cognitive dysfunction (94%); most are underachieving in academics (81%); and most have unhealthy peer relationships (87%). Drug court programs that are designed for individuals with alcohol related disorders could increase the rate of success for many drug court participants.

"The magic of a drug court is not so much having a judge talk to an offender every couple of weeks. The magic is in situating a person in a way that will allow him to succeed, maybe for the first time in his life." --Michael Link, president of the National Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities.

By Teresa Kellerman
teresa [at] come-over.to
Certified FAS Trainer for National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Why Drug Courts Need to Know About FAS
FAS Community Resource Center
Tribal Law and Policy Institute
National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
Native American/Alaska Native Tribal Court Project (Click on Tribal Health & Wellness Courts)
Summary Assessment of the Drug Court Experience.
Drug Court Fact Sheet
Drug Court Activity Update: Composite Summary Information June 2000.