By Jasmine Martinez, CFCC Student Fellow, Fall 2020
Maryland is one of several states that utilize drug treatment courts to assist those who are recovering from addiction. Drug treatment courts in the criminal context allow defendants to have a voice in their recovery plan and the power to control their lives. Rather than sentence a defendant to prison for the consequences that occur because of their addiction, drug treatment courts allow the defendant to work with a team of people toward recovery, with support and services. Another type of drug treatment court is the family drug treatment court (FDTC), which exists in the child welfare system to support the reunification of children with their parents.
Dependency courts focus on protecting children from neglect and abuse, and within that context FDTCs give parents supports for their addiction. Criminal cases differ in that they seek to rehabilitate, deter, and provide retribution for the crime the defendants have committed. Rehabilitation is also a goal of the drug treatment courts. The courts provide services to help prevent defendants from re-offending. The courts attempt to deter not only the defendant but other citizens from committing similar offenses. Retribution is providing a punishment that is proportionate to the offense committed.
Judge Peggy Hora, who retired from the Alameda County Superior Court in California, spoke to the CFCC Student Fellows Program class about how drug and alcohol abuse can lead to children being removed from their homes by child protective services and dependency courts. In addition to removals of children from their homes, drug and alcohol abuse by parents also can lead to behavioral issues among the children removed, including poor socialization and ADHD, among others.
Family drug treatment courts give parents the ability to gain control over their lives and improve the possibility of family reunification. Primary objectives of FDTCs are protection of the child and family reunification, attained by promoting parental abstinence through support, treatment, and access to needed services. In one study, the reunification rate for those parents who finish this program is 80 percent, compared to those who go through a regular dependency court, where the reunification rate is 44 percent. (Marlowe, “Painting the Current Picture” (2016)). Participants in FDTCs are less likely to have their children removed again or be involved further with child protective services. Their children are less likely to have behavioral issues. Families who have participated in FDTCs report feeling the process to be fair, useful, and positive for their families.
Before problem-solving drug treatment courts existed, courts often sentenced defendants to time behind bars or time on probation without addressing the underlying addiction. In the child welfare context, before the implementation of family drug treatment courts, courts often removed children from their homes permanently. All of these responses by the justice system did not resolve the underlying problem or provide assistance to the families who were torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, some would say it often led to a much bigger problem.
Although family drug treatment courts are not a 100% guarantee of success, they provide families impacted by drug and alcohol addiction the opportunity to restore their lives and keep their families together.