More Legislation Passed to Help Successful Treatment Courts

By Bridget Bauer

What is working to treat drug and DWI offenders has just been expanded. The Missouri legislature passed a bill September 14 expanding drug treatment courts in all counties.

This year marks the 25th year for treatment courts in Missouri, with the first treatment court starting in 1993 in Jackson County. With more treatment courts per capita, Missouri is one of the leaders in treatment courts. The original version of the bill was vetoed by Gov. Mike Parson because of some aspects that didn’t pertain to drug treatment courts, and he sent it back to be reworked.

“The bill makes treatment courts more available and accessible particularly to rural areas,” Erik Theis, court administrator for the 29th Judicial Court (Jasper County) said. “Resources for individuals suffering from substance use and mental health disorders are scarce, especially in rural areas of the state.”

In Jasper County, the success of treatment courts shows in the reduction of recidivism compared to other correctional intervention. The rate of recidivism of individuals who enter treatment court is approximately 20 percent compared to 40 percent of those who are released from prison on parole.

“Treatment courts in Jasper County have cut the recidivism in half, and they are more cost effective,” Theis said. “These numbers resonate with the governor, lawmakers and other public officials.”

Since 2015, Jasper County treatment courts have expanded nearly 250 percent. Currently, the program has approximately 100 participants. The treatment courts in Jasper County include a drug court, veteran’s court, DWI court and co-occurring disorders (commonly referred to as mental health) court. Newton County courts operate a drug, juvenile and DWI court. The courts consist of a multi-disciplinary team, which are made up of the judge, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, probation and parole officer, administrative officer, treatment provider and law enforcement. The treatment courts only admit individuals into the program who are charged with a felony but are identified as “high risk and high need.” These high-risk, high-need individuals typically have the propensity of cycling in and out of the criminal justice system.

“Instead of being incarcerated, these defendants are out in the community working, paying taxes, receiving treatment and contributing to society,” Theis said. “They have a lot of needs, but this is a community issue, which requires collaboration from all stakeholders. These individuals have a lot of needs, such as housing, transportation, education, employment, etc.”

The treatment court program is not easy. The program is a minimum of 18 months. While in the program, participants must submit to 2-3 drug screens per week, attend treatment as required, report to their probation officer regularly, complete community service and appear in front of the judge twice per month. Prior to the hearing, cases are staffed by the treatment court team, and the participants’ progress is reported to the judge. Depending on the participants’ progress, the judge may give incentives or administer sanctions as needed.

This year is not the only year the legislature has passed legislation regarding treatment courts. In 2001, the Drug Courts Coordinating Commission and Drug Court Resources Fund was established, and in 2010, DWI court programs or dockets were established. In 2013, the veteran’s treatment court program was adopted, which combines substance use and mental health services to veterans struggling with addiction and mental health and/or co-occurring issues.

In the Southwest Missouri area, in addition to Jasper and Newton counties, some of the counties with adult treatment courts are McDonald, Barry, Stone, Taney, Christian, Greene, Lawrence, Dade, Barton, Cedar and Vernon. McDonald also has juvenile and family courts, Lawrence has veteran’s court, Greene has family and DWI courts while Stone and Christian also have DWI courts.

“ASCENT Recovery Residences loves working with the treatment courts,” Teddy Steen, executive director, said. “It creates a great partnership and better outcomes!”