Drug courts are a specialty court in the Arkansas judicial system designed to channel those accused of drug infractions into rehabilitation rather than prison. The first drug court in the United States was established in 1989 in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and the first in Arkansas began in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1994, created by Pulaski County circuit judge Mary Ann McGowan. By 2016, fifty-eight of Arkansas’s seventy-five counties had drug courts.
Adult drug courts deal with individuals eighteen years of age and above who have been arrested and charged for some type of infraction involving drugs. A drug court is an alternative to a standard term of probation or a trial, as a trial could result in a prison sentence for someone who committed a crime and has demonstrated a substance-abuse disorder. Drug courts save the state money by reducing the number of criminals who have to be incarcerated. According to the Arkansas Department of Correction’s 2016 annual report, the cost to house one inmate for twelve months was $22,086. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals reported that drug courts saved U.S. taxpayers $8.3 billion in federal and state funding in 2009.
The National Drug Court Resource Center places the total number of all drug courts (including juvenile, family treatment, reentry, and other drug courts) in the United States at 2,968 as of June 30, 2014. According to the National Institute of Justice, at the end of 2014, there were 1,540 adult drug courts in operation in the United States. Judge McGowan’s court in Pulaski County did not have the title of drug court but was known as a Supervised Treatment and Education Program (STEP Court). In June 2015, the monthly average for adult participants statewide in Arkansas was approximately 2,350.
Those who are invited to participate in drug court are officially known as participants, and all participants are given sixty months of probation. Participants have been arrested and charged for some type of infraction involving drugs and are also non-violent offenders. Violent offenders are not allowed in the drug court program. Upon petitioning to be seen in drug court, a potential participant is typically screened by several judicial district officials, drug court counselors, probation officers, and the deputy prosecuting attorney. However, the final decision of whether an individual can participate in drug court is made by the deputy prosecuting attorney.
Instead of going to trial, participants enter a plea agreement and then enter the drug court program. There is a fine of $450 that must be paid by those who enter the drug court program. There is also an associated cost of $600, which must be paid during the course of their participation.
The Faulkner County drug court program is a good example of how a drug court operates in Arkansas. Judge Charles E. Clawson Jr. of Conway (Faulkner County), a judge in the Twentieth Judicial District, started the Faulkner County Drug Court in 2003, and 243 people had entered the Faulkner County Drug Court program as of July 2016. Drug court in Faulkner County lasts from sixteen to twenty-four months, depending on a person’s level of adherence to drug court rules. (Drug courts in Arkansas have programs that span twelve to thirty-six months.)
Faulkner County uses a five-phase program. The first phase is the most intensive and includes regular drug testing and sessions with counselors and probation officers. Participants must also attend Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous, or another outside support group, depending on their individual situation, and the participant must show proof of attendance. If the participant does not attend the required outside support group, then that is a violation of the participant’s drug court agreement. The second, third, and fourth phases of the program have the same requirements as the first phase, with the difference being fewer drug tests and fewer meetings with counselors and probation officers. As the participants move through each phase of the program, they demonstrate that they are ready for additional responsibility. Participants are also encouraged to find work if possible. A fifth phase allows the participant more time to pay fines, fees, costs, and restitution, with decreased supervision. All financial obligations must be paid before graduation from the program. Movement into phase five must be approved by the staff and is based on the individual’s performance up to that point. The fifth phase was created in order to provide some supervision while the individual pays fines, fees, costs, and restitution associated with his or her case.
Faulkner County Drug Court statistics show that seventy percent of participants graduate from the program, twenty-six percent fail and are sent to prison, and the remaining four percent either absconded or were discharged for various reasons. The recidivism rate for graduates is twelve percent, and those people are not allowed to repeat the drug court program and usually end up in prison.
In all drug courts, staying off drugs while enrolled is of primary importance and mandatory. Participants are regularly tested for drug use, especially during the first phase. Those who test positive for drug use will have a longer period of drug court than those who test negative. If participants have too many positive drug tests, then they may have their probation revoked and then be sent to prison. A participant who tests positive for drugs will often receive community service time instead of having his or her probation revoked.
For additional information:
Arkansas Adult Drug Court Recidivism Study/Cost Benefit Analysis. http://www.dcc.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/publications/DrugCourtRecidivismPerformanceNov2014.pdf (accessed on July 10, 2017).
Arkansas Department of Correction Annual Report 2015. http://adc.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/Annual_Report_2015_rev1.pdf (accessed July 10, 2017).
Arkansas Drug Courts: Annual Report to the Arkansas General Assembly. https://courts.arkansas.gov/sites/default/files/tree/Annual%20Report%20to%20the%20
Arkansas%20General%20Assembly%20-%202014.pdf (accessed July 10, 2017).
Drug Court Programs. Arkansas Judiciary. https://courts.arkansas.gov/courts/circuit-courts/drug-court-programs (accessed July 10, 2017).
National Association of Drug Court Professionals. http://www.nadcp.org/ (accessed July 10, 2017).
University of Central Arkansas