Justice to Healing co-hosts Kristen DeVall and Christina Lanier give a brief overview of the history of treatment courts in the U.S, the goals of the National Drug Court Resource Center, and topics of future podcast episodes.
(00:05) Ben: Hello and welcome to Justice to Healing, presented by the National Drug Court Resource Center. I am Ben Yerby, the Integrated Marketing & Communication Specialist with the NDCRC, and the host for this first episode of the Justice to Healing Podcast. In this episode, we will introduce you to the co-directors of the National Drug Court Resource Center, explore a brief history of treatment courts, and discuss topics for future episodes. I am excited to now have the feature co-hosts introduce themselves. Ladies?
(00:33) Christina: Hi, I’m Dr. Christina Lanier.
(00:36) Kristen: And I’m Dr. Kristen DeVall. We are professors of sociology and criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the co-directors for the National Drug Court Resource Center.
(00:46) Ben: So, before we get into what we’re doing here at the center, tell us a little bit about the history of treatment courts and why they are so important.
(00:54) Kristen: So the first drug court started in Miami-Dade County in 1989, and it was based on a recognition by several members of the criminal justice system, so judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, law enforcement, that folks were cycling in an out of the criminal justice system with substance use disorders and the system just was not responding effectively to the needs of those folks. So these were individuals that had sometimes been through the system countless times and no real change in behavior. So, thinking what could we do differently and how could we respond to the needs of those folks in a better way, a more effective way, and so treatment courts really represent the partnership between treatment and the criminal justice system. I think it’s pretty remarkable for the time, so thinking back to 1989, what was happening in terms of policy, so start of treatment courts and really the drug court model, was pretty revolutionary for that time and really started a change in the way that we think about responding to folks with a substance use disorder that are involved with the criminal justice system.
(2:14) Christina: Just to follow up on that, today we have over 3,000, almost 4,000, drug treatment courts of some type across the United States and territories, so every state has at least one of these types of treatment courts. Over time, the treatment courts have developed in focus from just being drug courts to now we have mental health courts, re-entry courts, opioid focused courts, juvenile, and about five or six more types of courts that all come from what happened back in 1989 in Miami-Dade.
(2:51) Ben: With that in mind, what went into your decision to pursue a career in treatment courts?
(2:56) Kristen: So my start with treatment courts began actually the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I interned with Judge William Schma who actually started the first women’s treatment court in the country. I got to see the intimate, day-to-day operations of the treatment court and it was very intriguing to me. At the time, I wanted to go to law school, and so seeing the law work in a way that maybe was different from the traditional model. So really an embodiment of the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence and how the law can be a helping hand was very intriguing to me, and so looking back on my career, I think that was a changing moment where I thought the day-to-day practice of law necessarily wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time, but definitely was interested in treatment courts and policymaking and the like. That, for me, really changed the focus in looking at how we can address substance use disorder as a public health issue versus a criminal justice issue. And again, as I mentioned before, treatment courts really representing the partnership and collaboration between treatment and the criminal justice system.
(4:17) Christina: Yeah, and I would say that my switch over to treatment courts really came from my focus on applied sociology or applied criminology, so doing work that is in the community, in the field, doing work that can help improve programs, and as I shifted my focus to treatment courts, those methods and skills that I had had during my training really helped to expand my knowledge around treatment courts and really what can we do, how can we do it, and how can researchers and practitioners work together to make positive change, so finding what works is really important. For treatment courts, finding what works is a continuous question, and who it works for, and how we can continue to improve those programs.
(5:09) Ben: Is there a research question that you’re most interested in?
(5:12) Kristen: I think the research question I’m interested in most is, “How do treatment courts respond to the changing needs of various target populations?” So we have this drug court model that all treatment courts are based on, and thinking about how that model can be adapted to meet the need of different populations. So if it’s responding to the needs of families, or veterans, or folks with mental health disorders, this particular model, how does it need to be adapted to better meet the needs of different individuals?
(5:43) Ben: Now that we know a little bit more about the history of treatment courts, and how you got started in your careers, let’s dive into the here and now. In your own words, what is the mission and purpose of the NDCRC?
(5:54) Kristen: Yeah, so on our website, you can actually see the four areas that we specialize in, if you will. So one of them is dissemination. The center is really an entity that is responsible for disseminating information, and that includes research, facts, multimedia resources, so anything that can be useful to practitioners and policymakers, providing an avenue by which that information makes its way from researchers to the policymakers and the practitioners that can actually implement that, so the catalyst by which that information is shared with the field. Kind of the second responsibility of the NDCRC is to conduct research. Conducting research on and answering those questions that are relevant to the field and can answer some of those questions that policymakers may have or lawmakers, what is it that folks want to know and how can we be responsive to understanding that from an empirical perspective? So not only conducting that research internally, but also partnering with researchers that are doing that work.
(7:02) Christina: And just to continue the mission, we also are here to create, so really creating content, creating resources for individuals, for practitioners, for stakeholders, so creating is one of our other pieces of our mission, and then lastly, collaboration. We are strongly committed to building a relationship between researchers and practitioners, strongly committed to building collaborative partnerships with other entities that do similar work. The NDCRC, as we like to say, is more than a website. It is really here to provide resources and to help improve and assist those in the treatment court field.
(7:45) Ben: Now that the NDCRC is at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, what are your aspirations and goals for the work of the center?
(7:53) Kristen: I would say at its highest level, we really are tasked with provided practitioners and policymakers with the tools, information they need to make informed decisions and allocate resources where they’re needed. So, again, coming back to that disseminate, research, create, collaborate. All of that work is designed to do, again, providing the information that practitioners and policymakers need. To that end, I think being and serving as a one-stop-shop for folks to find information, whatever that may be, about treatment courts. That’s where our website comes into play, as well as some of the other – certainly this podcast, but also some other – webinars and the other multimedia resources that we’re putting together.
(8:45) Ben: So, what’s been your favorite part so far about directing the NDCRC?
(8:50) Christina: Oh man, there’s lots of favorites so far, but I would definitely say, thus far, it’s been connecting with statewide coordinators that help to run these programs, having conversations about what’s needed in the field, really knowing what we need to do to provide the best information. That’s been amazing, being able to actually talk to people that are on the ground doing this work has been enlightening and has really provided us with some great context for moving forward.
(9:25) Ben: The NDCRC has a new website. What are some new features and why did you decide to incorporate those into the site?
(9:32) Christina: Yeah, the website is definitely new! We’ve done a full revamp of the website: ndcrc.org is the website name and we invite you to go check that out. We have tried to improve and enhance the website, again, based on those conversations with those working in the field. We have created a lot of resources for individuals. So, specifically we have resources by court type, and again these resources are things like policy and procedure manuals, fact sheets, other types of documents, operational documents, sample documents. We often hear, “How do you make a handbook?,” and so we have that information available by court type on our website. We also have an entire section dedicated to program evaluation and tools that individuals can use to evaluate their program or to read other program evaluations, other programs that have been evaluated perhaps to give some ideas about the next steps for their own evaluation. And then, we are super excited about our interactive discussion board, and the discussion board (or discussion forum) is another new feature of the website, hasn’t been there before. This is really intended to allow anyone that has interest in treatment courts to have a conversation and engage, and again, go back to that “collaborate” which is one of our goals. So this particular discussion forum has general sections, but then it also has sections for each court type, again, allowing those individuals who may specialize in family treatment courts to have a place and a voice where they can come together to ask questions, get advice, et cetera.
(11:17) Kristen: Some of the other features that are new, one is a calendar of events, so this is an ongoing repository of webinars, conferences, and other professional development opportunities that are relevant to the treatment court field, and this is information that is featured here is from a multitude of sources, so SAMHSA, BJA, NADCP, the National Counsel for Juvenile and Family Court Judges, really any entity that specializes in treatment court work is represented in the calendar of events. We hope that this will serve as, again, kind of a one-stop-shop for opportunities to learn more about treatment courts. The second is an interactive map of treatment courts by state and territory. Currently, we have a list of what types of treatment courts are in operation within the states and territories, and we are adding, currently, additional data to that map from four different sources. The base layer are the treatment courts by state and territory, but that information is going to be combined with UCR data, so the Uniform Crime Report data, substance use and mental health data from SAMHSA, overdose and alcohol-related driving deaths as well as opioid prescribing rates from the Center for Disease Control, as well as census information from the U.S. Census. So all of this information is going to be included on this interactive map, and we hope that this information provides folks with the information they may need when they’re writing grant applications and preparing a statement of need. We also hope that this is helpful to folks that may be reviewing grants, or legislators or people who want to know more about the context in which these programs are operating, both within the state and in the counties. One more new feature of the website is an essential readings page. As Christy mentioned, one of the pieces of feedback that we got back from folks in the field was that there wasn’t a place where they could send folks that may be new to treatment courts where they could find information to read. So we put together this essential readings page with the idea in mind that if someone were brand new to working in treatment courts, what would they need to know? So that particular page involves both readings, documents, as well as some multimedia, so some webinars and some other types of resources. We hope that that’s helpful for new folks to have a place to come and gather information.
(14:03) Ben: To go along with the launch of our new podcast, what are some topics you’re hoping to explore on the show? What should listeners expect in the future?
(14:10) Kristen: Yeah, we have some exciting topics coming up on future episodes of the Justice to Healing podcast. One is around recovery language that’s used both within the larger criminal justice system, but also within society at large. How do we shift the focus away from more punitive language to more recovery-oriented language, and why is that important? What does that signify, and why do we think that change in language is needed? We have self-care and mindfulness, so again, this is based on feedback from folks in the field interested in learning more about both self-care and mindfulness as it’s applicable to treatment courts, both at the practitioner level, so folks who are working within these programs and actually providing the services, but also how do mindfulness and self-care, how is that relevant to and can be a helpful recovery tool for participants in these various programs? So we’re very much excited about that. We also have a podcast episode coming up about marketing your program, also based on feedback from our conversations with folks in the field, and being able to use data and evaluation results to tell the story about what these programs are doing. Oftentimes that training isn’t necessarily provided or those tools aren’t available, and so at the NDCRC, we have an entire section, we have staff members, but also resources that we’re building out to help folks market their program locally but also on a higher level.
(15:45) Christina: And we’ll also be tackling issues such as implicit bias, how does that play a role in our everyday operations of treatment courts, looking at how mental health in treatment courts, what kind of treatment is available, what kind of treatment should be available, and then lastly we would like to provide a history of treatment courts and how that has impacted various policies across the criminal justice system. So a whole host of things coming up that hopefully you’ll be able to join us for.
(16:18) Ben: So, you have given us a brief history of treatment courts, told us a little bit about yourselves and what the NDCRC is currently doing, as well as given us an idea of what to expect in the upcoming episodes of the Justice to Healing podcast. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners?
(16:34) Kristen: I think one is that we have a monthly newsletter and we hope that you will sign up for that on the ndcrc.org website, and that has a lot of information regarding treatment courts, upcoming events, resources available. We also hope that you will check out the discussion board and be a part of that larger conversation. You can also do that on the website.
(16:56) Christina: Yeah, and we are also in the process of conducting a survey of all treatment courts across the U.S. and territories and this survey is one that will provide a good snapshot or a picture of what treatment courts look like today. This survey is one that has been done in the past and we’re hoping to be able to provide some trend data and see where exactly treatment courts have been going since the last publication of the Painting the Current Picture monograph.
(17:24) Ben: Great. Well, thank you both for joining us today. We look forward to hearing from you again in the coming episodes. To our listeners, we thank you for listening and we hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to hit subscribe to stay updated on the podcast. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay engaged with us, and check out our website at ndcrc.org. Thanks again! Catch you next time on Justice to Healing.
(17:46) Disclaimer: The Justice to Healing Podcast is presented by the National Drug Court Resource Center and was supported by the grant number 2019-DC-BX-K002, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Smart Office. Points of view or opinions in this podcast are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice.