In August 2016, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) held a focus group comprised of juvenile drug treatment court (JDTC) judges from around the country to discuss their unique role as a judge in the juvenile justice system and leading a JDTC team. This benchcard summarizes the advice they would give to new JDTC judges and/or to JDTC judges who are simply trying to better understand their role in this problem solving court.
The JDTC is a specialized docket within the juvenile justice system that provides targeted services to youth who have concurrent delinquency and substance use disorders. JDTCs are part of the larger body of problem solving courts which are characterized by a team approach, frequent judicial monitoring, and the use of strength-based behavior modification techniques to reduce crime and substance use. JDTCs, and the diverse professionals who work in them, address the gaps in service matching and supervision that the traditional system could not accomplish without the interaction of the team1 . The research literature, as well as anecdotal information from JDTC judges confirms that effective utilization of the team approach is a key factor in any successful JDTC2 . The JDTC team generally consists of a judge, a coordinator, probation officers or case managers, prosecutor, defense attorney, and treatment providers. In the team approach these professionals meet together to not only design the JDTC program, but also to staff the individual youth cases each week. It is during these staffings that the team works to come to consensus regarding appropriate responses to the youth’s behavior.
The purpose and role of the JDTC judge aligns with the foundational premises of the juvenile justice system (i.e., a nonadversarial system, focused on habilitation); however a pendulum swing in the 80’s and 90’s led the system down a punitive and adversarial path. Current research and advice from the field states that JDTC judges have two primary purposes: 1) serve as the leader of the team of diverse professionals who make up the JDTC team; and 2) forge connections with the JDTC youth and their families.3
A JDTC judge should have a firm grasp on the following four topics to effectively lead a JDTC team and make evidencedbased decisions regarding the youth in their courts:
There is a common saying in problem-solving court circles – “good judge, good court,” and in many ways this is true. The efficacy of a JDTC does depend, in large part, on the judge. The judge’s role as a leader on the JDTC team can drive teams to follow recommended practices and make data-driven decisions. However, the opposite side to this is true as well – judges can also lead teams down a path that is not driven by data and/or research. During the focus group, the JDTC judges listed recommended skills and attributes that a judge should possess or work hard to develop.
Juvenile drug treatment court judges should receive training on:
Juvenile drug treatment court judges should strive to incorporate the following traits when working with the JDTC team, as well as youth and families:
While the goal for JDTC teams is to reach consensus regarding responses to youth behavior, in some cases, the diverse group of professionals on the JDTC team may not agree on responses and/or recommendations for placement or supervision and have difficulty reaching consensus during pre-court staffing. In those cases, the team looks to the judge to be the tie breaker. But the role of the judge is to be more than just a tie breaker, he/she should work to build consensus among the team while remembering that he/she is always the ultimate decision maker.
Many JDTC judges are active in their communities and pressure other judges to follow suit. In addition, JDTC teams depend on their judges to promote the court and bring stakeholders to the table to assist in resource development and sustainability. This is second nature to some judges; however many judges feel uncomfortable in this role.
The team approach is a key factor in successful JDTCs; however, it does bring a number of ethical considerations (e.g., ex parte communications, neutrality, etc.).
Research indicates that in problem solving courts, rapport with the judge can have an impact on outcomes for participants. While this type of interaction may come naturally to some, for others it can be difficult to create a relationship with program clients.
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