Missouri’s treatment courts: helping offenders help themselves

Criminal defendants with an underlying drug or alcohol problem are fortunate to live in Missouri. The state leads the nation in the establishment of treatment courts, also known as alternative sentencing courts, problem-solving courts and specialty courts. The mission of these courts is to help the defendants who come before them rather than simply sentence them to jail, prison or probation.

Per the Missouri Judicial Branch, Missouri has six types of treatment courts as follows:

  1. Drug courts
  2. DWI courts
  3. Veterans’ courts
  4. Mental health courts
  5. Juvenile treatment courts
  6. Family treatment courts

Unfortunately, however, not all counties have all six kinds of treatment courts. For instance, Greene County has only two: drug court and family treatment court. The county does, however, have a stand-alone DWI court as well that is not yet part of the statewide treatment court system. Some Missouri cities have their own treatment courts. For instance, Legal Aid of Western Missouri reports that the Kansas City Municipal Court has its own drug, mental health and veterans’ courts.

Participation

Criminal offenders or those facing criminal charges usually enter these specialty courts via referral from a “regular” court or through advocacy on the part of their attorneys. Defendants must qualify for inclusion in one of these courts. They must also agree to participate in the programs offered by the specific court involved, as well as comply with treatment recommendations and appear in court, usually on a monthly basis, for monitoring.

Once accepted into the appropriate court’s program, defendants discover that the emphasis is on their treatment and rehabilitation instead of punishment. The program may include such things as in-house treatment at a rehabilitation facility, attendance of substance abuse classes, outpatient mental health treatment, or whatever the court and its treatment professionals believe appropriate under each defendant’s circumstances. While under the jurisdiction of the treatment court, defendants may also receive job training, housing assistance and other needed community services.

Outstanding track record

In the 25 years since the first treatment court began in Jackson County, Missouri, over 20,100 people have graduated from the various court programs. Today, 4,900 Missourians are enrolled in them.

Statistics show that these courts not only allow defendants to remain in their own communities, supporting their families and paying taxes, but also substantially reduce their recidivism rate when compared to incarceration or probation. Furthermore, these courts reduce crime and the need for foster care while increasing the number of child support payments made by defendants facing criminal charges or offenders with criminal convictions.