Ashtabula County Specialty Court Programs

What is a specialty court program?

Specialty courts handle offenders with substance use disorders in nonviolent felony or misdemeanor drug cases. By completing specialty court treatment, participants can have their prison sentences reduced or expunged. Separating drug crimes from other offenses enables judges, state attorneys, and public defenders to resolve the cases more efficiently and fairly. Probation officers, parole officers, and judges in a specialty court refer offenders in active cases to Lake Area Recovery Center for addiction recovery services.

When did specialty courts start?

The first drug court was established in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1989. It set the precedent for therapeutic jurisprudence, which is a philosophy based on the principle that addiction is a disease that can be treated. This method supports addiction recovery rather than punishing offenders for their substance use disorder.

What are the goals of a specialty court program?

The goals of a specialty court program are to:

  • Stop drug use and prevent relapse
  • Increase the number of participants who complete treatment and integrate treatment knowledge into their daily lifestyle
  • Improve the living circumstances of participants who successfully complete the program
  • Reduce recidivism (reoffending)
  • Reduce the prison population and costs spent on corrections

We achieve these goals by addressing the root causes of addiction-related criminal behavior and prioritizing recovery over punishment. Crime-producing needs are targeted, such as antisocial attitudes, antisocial peer associations, substance abuse and addiction, lack of problem-solving skills, lack of empathy, and lack of self-control. We focus on the needs of each client and on individuals who are at the highest risk for reoffending.

How is LARC involved with specialty courts?

Currently, LARC is the addiction services treatment provider for:

What happens in a specialty court?

Specialty court programs combine frequent and randomized drug tests with evidence-based treatment methods. Specialty courts usually involve three phases of treatment:

  1. Stabilization: Participants undergo drug detoxification and receive treatment for co-occurring psychological or medical disorders.
  2. Intensive Treatment: For several months up to two years, offenders participate in addiction recovery treatment offered through the specialty court program. Treatment involves behavioral health service plans, relapse prevention, and addiction counseling. Status court hearings occur with the judge to monitor compliance with the treatment program.
  3. Transition: The treatment program ends by helping participants to stay sober, providing them with adult education, and assisting them in finding a job. Participants can graduate from the specialty court program once they have stayed sober for a specified period of time.

Who qualifies for a specialty court program?

Specialty court participants are often offenders who have been charged with a substance use-related offense and/or other non-violent offenses committed while experiencing a substance use disorder. In order to be eligible for a specialty court program, an individual must be sentenced to at least 180 days in order to ensure program completion. Specialty court participants can range from juvenile first-time offenders to adults with a history of substance use-related offenses and drug charges. Treatment classes are specific to offenders housed at the Ashtabula County Jail.

Can a specialty court test you?

Yes. Participants are randomly urine screened at least twice a week. Frequent drug tests are required in a specialty court program, especially during the initial stages of addiction recovery.

How long does a specialty court program last?

Treatment progress is monitored during the specialty court, typically between 14 months and 2 years. specialty court participants receive a plan for treatment as determined in their initial assessments by LARC and probation, which are modified based on progress or lack thereof. LARC staff members meet weekly prior to specialty court to review client progress and determine incentives or sanctions as necessary and appropriate. Each offender has a reentry plan for continuing care and case management services upon release.

What are specialty court sanctions and incentives?

Sanctions and incentives are two of the most important elements of a specialty court program. Specialty court sanctions are negative consequences that a specialty court participant will experience for failure to adhere to the addiction recovery program. Specialty court incentives, on the other hand, offer positive reinforcement for progress in their addiction recovery. 

Sanctions can include:

  • Verbal admonishments
  • Written letters of apology
  • Essay assignments about drug addiction, recovery, and relapse prevention
  • Daily activity logs
  • Increased community restrictions and supervision requirements
  • Useful community service
  • Monetary fines or fees
  • Holding cell
  • Day reporting
  • Electronic surveillance
  • Home detention
  • Flash jail sanctions, typically 1-5 days
  • Termination from the specialty court program

Incentives can include:

  • Verbal praise and written commendations
  • Tangible and symbolic rewards
  • Recognition in court
  • Posted accomplishments
  • Reduced supervision requirements and community restrictions
  • Self-improvement services, such as assistance with writing a resume, earning a GED, and finding employment
  • Supervised social gatherings, day trips, and travel privileges
  • Legal incentives, such as dismissal or reduction of drug charges, reduction or avoidance of a jail/prison sentence, curtailment of a probation term, or complete expungement of the arrest or conviction record.

What is the success rate of specialty courts?

Studies have shown that approximately 50% of all specialty court participants successfully complete the program. However, several factors can impact the success of specialty courts. Some of these factors include the length of time the individual spends in the program, whether the treatment is inpatient or outpatient, the length and severity of their addiction, and the individual’s willingness and desire to become drug-free. Overall, though, graduates of specialty court programs have shown lower rates of substance use and reoffending.

Contact Lake Area Recovery Center for more information on our addiction recovery treatment services.