The Allegheny County Drug Court Program, which has been in existence since 1998, is designed specifically for those drug users involved in the Criminal Justice System. The intention is to place these individuals into an intensive drug treatment program as an alternative to incarceration to help them become drug-free and return to a productive lifestyle.
Referral and Eligibility
Drug Court candidates are identified by the District Attorney's office or may be referred by their defense attorneys to the District Attorney's office for consideration and screened by Adult Probation for eligibility of Intermediate Punishment. Candidates must be level 3 or level 4 offenders and must be willing to plead guilty to all charges. Defendants cannot be currently charged with or convicted of any prohibited offenses (crimes of violence) within the past ten years.
The initial offer is made to potential Drug Court candidates at their pre-trial by the District Attorney's office. If candidates are interested, they must be interviewed by the Drug Court Specialist to receive a Pennsylvania Client Placement Criteria (PCPC) drug and alcohol evaluation. The Drug Court Specialist makes the level of care and the specific treatment facility recommendations. It is a condition of the sentence that the client must complete ALL treatment requirements as recommended by the Drug Court Specialist.
Plea and Sentencing
Once it has been determined that a client is accepted for the Drug Court Program, s/he must plead guilty to all related charges. The average Drug Court sentence is 23 months Restrictive Intermediate Punishment followed by six months of probation. The Drug Court Judge has the discretion to shorten this sentence according to the client's progress in the program. Defendants that first enter Drug Court may be sent to a residential treatment facility the day after their plea. Upon successful completion of a residential program, the client is immediately placed on electronic monitoring for the remainder of the sentence. If the initial treatment recommendation is an outpatient level of care, the client is placed on electronic monitoring the day of the plea.
Clients in the Drug Court Program are required to attend monthly progress hearings in front of the Drug Court Judge. Any problems or concerns are addressed, and the client may be given various incentives or sanctions depending on their progress in the program.
Clients are expected to complete all treatment recommendations, attend Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) meetings, remain clean and sober, comply with house arrest schedules, and obtain employment and/or education. A client that is non-compliant with these expectations may be sentenced by the judge for swift interventions, which consists of anywhere from three to thirty days in jail depending on the infraction. Various other sanctions may be imposed as well, such as restrictions on house arrest, and/or community service.
After the sanction has been administered, clients are then reevaluated for further treatment (if the infraction was related to continued drug use or issues surrounding the addiction).
Revocation or graduation
Clients who have completed all of the treatment requirements are stepped down to six months probation where they receive continued supervision and urinalysis. They are still required to attend AA/NA meetings and progress hearings. Once clients have completed the 6 months probation, they are successfully discharged from the program and subsequently released from their sentence. They are invited to attend a Drug Court Graduation Ceremony in which they receive a certificate of completion from the Judge.
If a client has been continuously noncompliant to treatment recommendations, or commits a new criminal offense while in the Drug Court Program, s/he may be revoked out of the program and receive a sentence to the county jail or state penitentiary depending on their sentencing guidelines and the Judge's discretion.
Given to the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee on Senate Bill 415, Drug Court, March 17, 2005 Presented by Marc Cherna, Director, Allegheny County Department of Human Services
District Attorney's Office
Department of Human Services
Office of Behavioral Health