All Indiana judges are familiar with the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system. Individuals are sentenced for relatively minor criminal offenses, only to return months later facing new and frequently more serious charges. While terms of imprisonment seem to curb criminal activity for a period of time, eventually the re-offending individual reverts back to old behaviors leading to new arrests, convictions and periods of incarceration. The pattern continues for a number of years, until an Indiana trial court judge is sentencing a second generation of criminal defendants whose circumstances seem almost identical to that of their parents. Judges often can identify entire families within their communities whose members frequently appear before the court in a variety of legal matters including criminal charges, juvenile delinquency charges, domestic law and Child in Need of Services (CHINS) issues. A common denominator in these cases is the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.
This too familiar scene prompted Senior Judge Barbara Brugnaux in 1996 to initiate one of the first drug courts in the state. Today that number has multiplied and continues to grow as part of the movement toward courts that solve problems rather than sentence individuals into our over-crowded prisons. Her journey to becoming one of Indiana’s first drug court judges began several years prior when she saw a Dateline report that focused on the Miami—Dade County, Florida, drug court. She was then a deputy prosecutor in Vigo Superior Court, Div. 5, which handled primarily drug and alcohol cases. When Brugnaux was appointed to the bench in the same court in 1994, she applied for a drug court planning grant through the United States Department of Justice. The grant was awarded and a team of Vigo County criminal justice professionals attended the first federally sponsored drug court planning training in Denver, Colorado in November 1995. When asked what caused her to pursue this opportunity to start a drug court, she stated, “Knowing the types of cases filed in my court and knowing the nature of addiction, it was clear that we were not able to give these individuals the attention that they needed to deal with the disease of addiction and stay out of the criminal justice system. We needed to try something new.”
Published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1997, Drug Courts: The Key Components, serves as a model for drug courts nationally and is available at:
For a current listing of Indiana’s certified drug courts, visit courts.in.gov/pscourts/docs/dc-directory.pdf.
For a current directory of Indiana reentry courts, visit courts.in.gov/pscourts/docs/re-directory.pdf.
While there are many sentencing alternatives available to judges, drug courts are unique in targeting non-violent offenders at a high risk to reoffend using a non-adversarial team approach. Team members include treatment providers, a prosecutor, defense attorney, a case manager or probation officer, and often include community corrections and law enforcement personnel. The drug court judge serves as the leader of the team conducting frequent status hearings with participants to ensure compliance with court ordered treatment, drug testing and other conditions. Graduated incentives and sanctions are used to reward compliance or address non-compliance with the program requirements. The length of participation varies from court to court, but may range from 12–36 months. Most drug courts accept offenders charged with a variety of offenses, which may include possession of a controlled substance, theft, prescription offenses, prostitution, forgery and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. In 1997, the Bureau of Justice Assistance published Drug Courts: The Key Components, which serve as a model for drug courts nationally.
In addition to Vigo County, the Gary City Drug Court was also formed in 1996. Between 1997 and 2000, several other drug courts emerged in Allen, Marion, Monroe, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh counties. Individuals working in the drug court field formed the Indiana Association of Drug Court Professionals (IADCP) and began looking at ways to institutionalize the drug court movement in Indiana. Enabling legislation for drug courts seemed to be the answer. As IADCP began exploring legislation in this area, Judge Wayne Trockman of Vanderburgh County made a request to the Indiana Judicial Center (IJC) to “certify” his drug court as an IJC certified court alcohol and drug program under IC 12-23-14. Judge Trockman’s request for certification became a component of proposed legislation for drug courts, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2002 (IC 12-23-14.5). The Judicial Conference Board of Directors adopted rules for drug courts and IJC began certifying drug courts in 2003.
Individuals may participate in a certified drug court as a condition of probation, in response to a violation of probation, or under a guilty plea by a defendant and the court withholding judgment pending successful participation. The court will dismiss the charges upon successful completion of the program. If the participant fails to complete the program, the court will enter judgment of conviction and sentence the defendant pursuant to the plea agreement. Today there are thirty operational drug courts, including twenty-six adult courts and four juvenile courts.
At the same time that drug courts were gaining momentum in 2001, Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck developed the state’s first “reentry court” to provide enhanced services and supervision to individuals returning to Allen County from the Department of Correction. The reentry court was developed under the premise that, with few exceptions, all offenders return to the community. The reentry court was based in part on the drug court model, with the key distinction being that the reentry court accepted all community transition program (IC 11-10-11.5) eligible offenders released to Allen County. The Allen County reentry court was developed with the assistance of Allen County Community Corrections and includes partnerships with probation, parole, and local service providers. Other reentry courts emerged over the next several years in Marion, Grant and Vanderburgh Counties. “Before reentry court, I was frustrated seeing the same people and multiple generations of the same families in criminal court on a recurring basis. Reentry court is now successfully working with these individual and families,” states Judge Surbeck.
In 2006, the General Assembly enacted legislation authorizing local courts to establish reentry courts (IC 33-23-14). The Indiana Judicial Conference Board of Directors adopted reentry court rules in 2008, and IJC began certifying reentry courts in 2009. There are currently six certified reentry courts in Indiana. The Judicial Conference established the Problem-Solving Courts Committee in 2006 to support the innovation of judges at the local level. The committee’s mission is: “To encourage the broad integration of the problem-solving philosophy into the administration of justice to improve court processes and outcomes while preserving the rule of law and to encourage judges to take a proactive role, using a non-adversarial, coordinated strategy to problem-solving while creating an environment where participants are encouraged to take responsibility for change.” Judge John Surbeck of Allen Superior Court serves as chair of the fifteen member committee.
Almost fourteen years after the start of the first drug courts in Indiana, the drug court model is being applied in a variety of settings in the Indiana court system and across the nation. Courts that apply the drug court model to other populations in the court system are referred to as “problem-solving courts.” Other problem-solving courts in Indiana include mental health courts, family dependency (CHINS), drug courts, and one community court. Domestic violence courts and veterans’ treatment courts are in the planning stages. Grant, Marion and Vanderburgh counties have implemented more than one problem-solving court, such as a drug court and a reentry court. Madison Unified Courts recently developed a problem-solving courts division to coordinate the operations of the county’s drug, reentry and mental health courts and to investigate implementing other problem-solving court models.
The Indiana Judicial Conference Board of Directors gave permission to the Problem-Solving Committee to promote the expansion of problem-solving courts in Indiana through legislation in the 2010 Indiana General Assembly. Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) authored House Bill 1271 with co-authors Representatives Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), Kathy Richardson (R-Noblesville) and Linda Lawson (D-Hammond). Senate sponsors included Senators Richard Bray (R-Martinsville), Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and Randy Head (R-Logansport). Bill co-sponsors included Senators Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago) and Joe Zakas (R-Granger). The House passed the measure by a vote of 96–0 and the Senate passed it by a vote of 50-0. It will be effective on July 1, 2010. House Enrolled Act 1271 creates a framework for the establishment and certification for several problem-solving court models, including: family dependency drug courts, domestic violence courts, mental health courts, community courts and veterans’ courts.
In the coming months, the Problem-Solving Courts Committee will develop rules for problem-solving courts subject to approval by the Board of Directors. The Judicial Center will work with the committee to develop training and education programs for judicial officers, probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, treatment providers and other team members of problem-solving courts.
Research clearly indicates that drug courts reduce recidivism. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, “The most rigorous and conservative scientific meta-analyses have all concluded that drug courts significantly reduce crime as much as 35 percent more than other sentencing options.” (National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 2010 www.nadcp.org/learn/do-drug-courts-work). While research related to other problem-solving court models is not as widely available as drug court research, it continues to emerge with promising results. As Chief Justice Shepard noted in his recent state of the judiciary address, “Among the most effective strategies we have available are drug courts and re-entry courts, and the General Assembly has created statutory frameworks that help Indiana courts make these techniques work.”
For additional information about problem-solving courts, please contact Mary Kay Hudson, Problem-Solving Court Administrator, Indiana Judicial Center, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did You Know?
- A judge may initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications expressly authorized by law, such as when serving on therapeutic or problem-solving courts, mental health courts, or drug courts. See Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, Sec. 2.9(A)(5), Comment 4.
- Cases heard in certified problem-solving courts are eligible for weighted caseload credit. For additional information, contact Jim Walker, Director of Trial Court Management at email@example.com.
- The Supreme Court offers training scholarships for judicial officers, which may be used to attend a variety of programs including problem-solving court-related trainings and conferences.
- The National Drug Court Institute offers free on-line training on how to plan and implement a drug court. www.ndci.org/training-0.
- Indiana was the first state to “certify” drug courts and reentry courts and will be the first state to develop a certification program for other problem-solving court models, such as mental health courts and family dependency drug courts.
- An evaluation of the Allen County Reentry Court indicated that reentry court graduates demonstrated a 39% reduction in recidivism compared to the expected rates of rearrest for this population. Even participants that did not complete the entire program demonstrated a 22% reduction in recidivism compared to the expected rates of rearrest.
- With funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, the Indiana Judicial Center coordinated a multi-site evaluation of five adult drug courts and three juvenile drug courts, which was completed in 2007. The adult drug court evaluation concluded that participating courts reduced recidivism by up to 50% and can produce a return of up to $5.37 for every $1.00 invested in drug court. For a summary of the adult drug court evaluation results, visit courts.in.gov/pscourts/docs/eval-summary.pdf.