Success of Missouri's drug courts leads some to consider similar program for domestic violence offenders

Monday, March 7, 2011
Judge Scott Lipke presides over a drug court session on Friday at the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson. (Kristin Eberts)

It takes a committed team of probation officers, counselors and judges to make drug treatment court work in Missouri's circuit courts, but it's an approach the state's Supreme Court Chief Justice, William Ray Price Jr., has deemed successful.

And with the increase in the state's prison population -- it has nearly doubled since 1994, from 7,461 to 14,204 -- it's an approach that could be used more, Price said in his recent judiciary address.

The Missouri Attorney General's task force on domestic violence also positively acknowledged the program recently, recommending state circuit court judges create a similar special compliance docket for offenders ordered to abide by certain orders of protection.

The General Assembly authorized courts to create compliance dockets to monitor domestic violence offenders in 2004, although the authority hasn't been widely used.

The task force suggested the docket be mirrored after the approach used with drug courts, which can be a 14- to 18-month program locally for offenders needing more than the guidance of a probation officer.

Judge Scott Lipke, background center, leads a staff meeting Friday before a drug court session at the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson.

Joan Gummels, legislative director for the attorney general's office, said judges in St. Louis County and Jackson and Boone counties have created a docket to focus on whether or not an offender has violated a protection order and their conditions of probation.

Gummels staffed the meetings of the task force, who in February released a series of best practices and statutory changes for law makers and law enforcement in order to better protect victims of domestic violence.

"It seemed to us when they know they'll face a judge there would be a tendency to obey the order more than not," Gummels said. "It seemed to us to be a best-practice approach. There's no mandate because we really respect the discretion each judge has to manage their own docket."

In addition to promoting the safety of domestic violence victims, the suggested compliance docket is meant to hold offenders accountable for their actions.

"I think, too, it's important for the petitioner who has the order of protection to understand there is some accountability," Gummels said. "If this system respects their experience and encourages the court order there will be better results for public safety."

Drug court

In Cape Girardeau and Perry counties, Associate Circuit Court Judge Scott Lipke presides over four treatment courts -- juvenile and family drug court and adult criminal drug court in Jackson and in Perryville. Often, an offender is ordered to complete drug court as part of a plea recommendation, and they must graduate before they can be considered for release from probation requirements.

Lipke, who took over drug court dockets about two months ago, said it's interesting to see the change offenders go through while attending sessions.

"It's structured and there are different levels," he said. "A lot of it is contingent upon the individual. But, you can see when the light goes on in some of them."

Like in Cape Girardeau County, drug court participants in Scott and Mississippi counties go through treatment in phases. They begin attending individual and group counseling sessions at least once a week and are drug tested at random.

Commissioner Jim Pinkston, who with Judge David Dolan administers drug court in the 33rd judicial circuit, said at first, offenders in the program are tested a minimum of three times per week. They appear before a judge once at week at first, he added, and once they progress through the program may only need to attend court every two weeks.

In the final stages of the program, each individual's progress is assessed and they may be ordered to complete additional programming, such as parenting classes or anger management. Individuals charged with alcohol-related offenses are also often chosen to complete drug court.

All offenders attending drug court must be employed or be pursuing an education, Pinkston said, and sanctions or incentives or doled out based on each offenders individual compliance with the program.

An offender who fails a drug test, Dolan said, giving an example, may have to pay the cost of administering the test.

"We do whatever it takes to keep that person on the track to complete the program," said Dolan, who began offering drug court in his circuit in 1995.

Lipke said it's not unusual to order an offender who misses a drug test or a counseling session to serve some shock jail time or be sentenced to complete a few hours of community service.

"We've got a tighter rein on them when they come in," Lipke said. "You really tailor it after the individual and that's what I like about it. You see them more often and there's more people involved in their recovery."

Pinkston said family and adult drug court in Scott and Mississippi counties have a fairly high success rate, about 75 percent to 80 percent.

Participants are tracked by the court for up to three years after they graduate from drug court and the program's success rate is based on whether they are reincarcerated or charged with another crime.

Resources

While Lipke and Dolan agree creating a compliance docket for domestic violence offenders that mimics the drug court mechanism is a good idea, they said it may not be as effective in their smaller counties as it is in larger districts.

Lipke said there may not be a need to create a completely new docket to check-in with offenders and see if they're complying with orders of protection. There may not be that many respondents to check on and, as a judge, he said he is limited as far as what he can list in the protection order.

"With drug court, there's more aspects, more conditions," Lipke said. :There's more requirements and more things for them to stay on top of."

With a protection order, a judge can declare a respondent to stay away from the alleged victim, address custody issues, order the person complete a batterer's intervention course or assess fees associated with medical, mortgage or court costs, Lipke said.

"It may not be that we have to set aside a whole different docket for it," he said. "We might be able to just put it on another docket if it's only a handful of people, but, it's certainly something to look at. The compliance docket as I understand it would be more about checking on compliance of other orders."

Dolan said while he may have the time to preside over a separate docket day, he wouldn't be able to create another support team, similar to what he has created for drug court. The team meets before each treatment session to discuss each individual participant and their progress.

"There's nobody there for that," he said. "We're scraping by with getting probation and parole to commit a person to us, and we're scraping by with getting family counseling to commit a person to us. I think the idea is fine, it's just the resources aren't there right now."

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

131 S. Winchester, Benton, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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