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Salt Lake City's "Aha" Experience

Written by Tasha Williams, Juvenile Defenders Attorney, and Victor Tarleton, Probation Officer, Salt Lake City Third District Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Team (UT)

In November 2017, the Third District Juvenile Treatment Court team from Salt Lake City, Utah, held an all-day strategy session with Dr. Jacqueline van Wormer.  The team credits Dr. van Wormer’s guidance as the catalyst for a series of changes they identified as priorities in earlier phases of the Learning Collaborative but had struggled to implement.  The team identified the following areas as priorities and has implemented the following changes:

Eligibility Checklist

Before NCJFCJ involvement and Dr. van Wormer's visit, the Third District team had a few concrete eligibility criteria. After meeting with Dr. van Wormer and in tandem with statewide juvenile justice reform that required more reliance on a validated risk assessment tool called the Pre-Screen Risk Assessment (PSRA) and a post-adjudication Protective and Risk Assessment (PRA), the team promulgated the following eligibility checklist: 

  • Is the youth between the ages of 14 and 17 1/2? 

  • Is the youth moderate or high risk on the PSRA? 

  • Is question #22 marked "yes" on the PSRA? 

  • Is the youth moderate or high risk on the PRA? 

  • On the PRA, is the youth scoring risk in Domain 7 (Alcohol and Drugs)?

If the child meets the above-listed criteria, he or she is accepted into treatment court. 

Juvenile Treatment Court Phases

For some time the team had voiced a desire to update its antiquated phase system, which primarily relied on "clean days" for phase advancement. The new phase structure also needs to align with juvenile justice reform that set presumptive time limits for orders of probation. With Dr. van Wormer's guidance, the team created a phase system with more emphasis on attendance at treatment and regular drug testing. The basic structure of the phases are: 


  • 2-4 weeks long

  • Designed to be an or the orientation phase, likely pre-adjudication


  • About six weeks long

  • Emphasis on regular drug testing and treatment attendance


  • About six weeks long

  • Emphasis on negative drug testing and treatment attendance


  • 2-4 weeks long

  • Emphasis on relapse prevention


Several of the young people in the Third District Juvenile Treatment Court have benefited from its collaboration with community partners. 

  • Thanks to the RSL Foundation, one of the Third District's participants who met his drug court goal was able to attend a Real Salt Lake soccer game. (RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman even took the time to meet the young participant!)

  • Thanks to Canyon Crest Medical and Clarity Skin Medical Spa, one of the Third District's participants has started the process to have his gang-related tattoos removed. 

The Third District team continues to work on changes to its program and follow-up on action items from the meeting with Dr. van Wormer. The team's future focus will include incentivizing youth and their parents and increasing productivity at staffing through a revised court report/staffing sheet. 


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