Juvenile Drug Courts Essay


Juvenile drug courts are among the most recent innovations in the treatment of substance-involved adolescents in the justice system. Their emergence in the 1990s was driven by the rising rates of substance abuse among adolescents -- a 2000 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, showed that substance usage among high school students had risen substantially in the 1990s, with almost 9.5% being cocaine users; a third being binge drinkers, and 14.6% being inhalant users (Office of Justice Programs, 2003). In line with these statistics, the rate of juvenile crime rose by a massive 145% during this period compared to the rate reported in the last decade (Office of Justice Programs, 2003). Juvenile drug courts were established after it became apparent that the traditional juvenile court system did not deal effectively with substance abuse, mental illness and other related problems owing to its lack of specialization and family engagement. Today, there are over 200 juvenile drug courts across the country. This text is focused on South Carolina's BRIDGE Program, which serves as the state's federal drug court. It details among things, how the program works, the target group, the team members involved, and the program's utilization of the case management approach. Juvenile Drug Court: Overview

In its simplest form, a juvenile drug court is a section within the juvenile court system, where selected offenders struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues are referred by a designated judge for treatment and rehabilitation (Office of Justice Programs, 2003). The court is headed by a juvenile drug court judge, who works together with other team members, including representatives from the defense, the prosecution, probation, law-enforcement, vocational and school training programs, social services, juvenile justice, and treatment in determining how best to address the drug-related issues of the youth and their families, which have brought the former into contact with the system (Office of Justice Programs, 2003). The team members hold status meetings on a pre-determined basis, mostly weekly, to set rules, and at the same time discuss participants' problems, progress, and strategies that could be used to improve treatment outcomes. In the BRIDGE Program, team members meet semi-monthly, and although participation in the program is voluntary, participants are required to abide by the set rules throughout the course of the program (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). For this reason, they are often required to sign a written argument (co-signed by their attorney, and the supervising probation officer), affirming their willingness to abide by the rules of the program (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015).

Target Group

Generally, juvenile drug courts are meant to serve juvenile offenders who demonstrate moderate to heavy use of substances, and pose little or no danger to the society (Cooper, 2001). To be eligible for the BRIDGE Program, an offender must satisfy the aforementioned conditions, and must be either a post-conviction or a pretrial defendant (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). Pretrial defendants are eligible for admission if they have entered a guilty plea, and are awaiting sentencing (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). Post-conviction defendants, on the other hand, can be admitted if they have been charged for violating the terms of their supervised release, but have not yet been sentenced for the same (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015).

Pretrial defendants who complete their programs successfully could have their charges dropped or reduced to a lesser offence by the United States Attorney's Office (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). The specific service areas covered by drug court programs include education, family, primary care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and the overriding goal is to improve treatment outcomes for participants, and equip them with life skills that could increase their chances of becoming productive and healthy adults (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015).

How the Program Works

From a general perspective, juvenile drug courts assist in the rehabilitation of substance-abusing juvenile offenders and their families by providing judicial supervision and interventions in levels not available in the traditional court process (Office of Justice Programs, 2003). The drug court team identifies and enrolls participants to treatment programs, and then continually monitors them throughout the course of the program to ensure compliance with the program's pre-determined goals. In addition to offering intensive supervision, drug courts also offer support services designed to address the specific problems that drive adolescents to get involved...


The most common support services include court-ordered family education services, vocational training, mentoring, literacy building skills, and family therapy. The specific strategies and methodologies used in the treatment of participants differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
In the case of the BRIDGE Program, once the juvenile drug team receives a referral from a designated judge, it (the team) subjects the referee to the eligibility criteria outlined earlier on to determine their qualification to join the program. In testing whether a referee is a moderate to heavy user of substances, the team employs a range of assessment strategies including drug-testing, chemical testing, and assessment instruments. If the referee satisfies the eligibility criteria, they are accepted into the program, and begin phase 1 of the same. Treatment is achieved through three major phases, each of which is designed to allow participants to establish a law-abiding and sober lifestyle (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). All the three phases are focused on encouraging participants to acknowledge the impact of their use of substances on the community, their families, and themselves. They are encouraged to recognize their pattern of use as well as the specific individual and familial factors that drive them into substance use and abuse (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). In order to graduate from the program, a participant is required to successfully complete all the three phases of treatment.

Phase One: The Early Recovery Phase

This phase runs for a period of four months, during which participants are required to abstain from the use of alcohol and other drugs and to establish the specific familial and individual factors that drive their substance abuse issues (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). Moreover, they are required to establish what they think needs to be done (and what they themselves are doing) to facilitate their recovery, and to present verification of the same in all their scheduled meetings with the drug court team. In this phase, the drug court team will usually organize self-help groups, and the participant is supposed to attend three of the same every week. The supervising probation officer will often conduct unannounced home visits to assess participants' progress and subject them to a drug test to determine their compliance with the abstinence requirement. Upon completion of the phase, participants are required to submit to the supervising officer, a phase report detailing their progress, and their goals for the next phase of treatment.

Phase Two: The Primary Treatment and Continued Care Phase

This lasts for approximately five months -- participants are required to maintain the abstinence culture and are encouraged to begin understanding the adverse effects of substance abuse and to consequently take responsibility for the same (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). They are required to continue with substance abuse treatment, attend self-help group meetings three times a week, identify personal wellness activities and participate weekly in the same, attend (as required) the full-time court-ordered vocational or educational program, and participate (as part of the full-time program) in the U.S. Probation Office's 'Making it Work' and 'Money Smart' Programs (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). The self-help groups and educational programs are meant to allow participants ample time to interact with their therapists, and learn from each other through group psychotherapy.

Phase 3: Relapse Prevention Phase

This is the final phase of the program, running for three months, during which participants develop their individual relapse prevention plan (based on the risk factors identified in phase and secure their long-term recovery needs. Just as is the case with the other two phases, participants abstain from alcohol and drug usage, attend court hearings, participate in weekly wellness activities, and attend self-help groups three times a week. However, differently from the earlier phases, participants take part in full-time employment or community service commitments. The employer stays in constant communication and collaboration with the supervising officer and the drug court team as a way of ensuring that the participant is under constant monitoring. The constant monitoring and supervision of participants in a non-controlled setting helps to instill a culture of doing the right thing at all times. Upon completion of this phase, participants present their relapse prevention plan detailing how they intend to deal with the risk factors present in their environmental settings (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, 2015). One is only allowed to graduate if they are able to abstain for a…

Sources Used in Documents:


Chassin, L. (2008). Juvenile Justice and Substance Use. The Future of Children, 18(2), 165-183.

Cooper, C.S. (2001). Juvenile Drug Court Programs. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved August 10, 2015 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/184744.pdf

Office of Justice Programs. (2003). Juvenile Drug Courts: Strategies in Practice. Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved August 10, 2015 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/197866.pdf

United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. (2015). BRIDGE Program: Mission Statement and Policies. United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Retrieved August 10, 2015 from http://www.scp.uscourts.gov/Downloads/BRIDGEProgramMissionPolicies.pdf

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