Specialty Courts, also known as Drug Courts, are specialized court programs for persons with substance use and/or mental health disorders. For a person to be eligible for a Specialty Court, he/she must be charged with or convicted of a criminal drug-related offense, have an increased likelihood re-offend, and experiencing substance use disorder. Unlike traditional courts, these programs offer people an opportunity to enter long-term treatment with continuous court supervision. Specialty Courts address the underlying causes of criminal behavior and substance use, such as poverty, mental health issues, and unemployment. Specialty Courts reduce crime, improve public safety, and affect positive change in the lives of participants and families.
In 1989, Florida started the national specialty court movement by creating the first drug court in the United States in Miami-Dade County. Based on the original design, other models of specialty courts were implemented to further assist individuals with distinct concerns, such as veteran mental health, juvenile substance use, and intoxicated drivers.
In 1994, Arkansas implemented the first drug court in Pulaski County, known as S.T.E.P. or the Supervised Treatment and Education Program. Currently, Arkansas has a total of forty-nine (49) adult drug courts, sixteen (16) juvenile drug courts, eleven (11) DWI courts, five (5) HOPE & Swift courts, fifteen (15) veterans treatment courts, five (5) alternative sentencing courts, one (1) domestic violence courts, two (2) family treatment courts, and two (2) mental health courts.
- Specialty court programs integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services within justice system case processing.
- Using a nonadversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants’ due process rights.
- Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the specialty court program.
- Specialty court programs provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
- Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
- A coordinated strategy governs court responses to participants’ compliance.
- Ongoing judicial interaction with each program participant is essential.
- Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
- Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective specialty court program planning, implementation, and operations.
- Forging partnerships among specialty court programs, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances program effectiveness.