Accountability Courts

The Mountain Judicial Circuit Accountability Courts are programs that combine the evidence-based treatment to reduce substance use and the accountability of the court system to reduce drug-related crimes. Nationwide, Accountability Courts have over a 75% success rate in reducing recidivism for at least three years post graduation. The Mountain Judicial Circuit currently offers five Accountability Court programs: Habersham County Adult Felony Drug Court, Stephens County Adult Felony Drug Court, Rabun County Adult Felony Drug Court, Family Dependency Treatment Court (all three counties combined), and Mental Health Court (all three counties combined). Accountability Courts have a holistic model that relies on the judicial system, evidence-based therapy, and community partners for maximum effectiveness. Accountability Courts reduce the cost to the taxpayer by approximately $12,000-$15,000 per participant per year, reduce domestic violence and drug-related crime, reduce the quantity of indigent emergency room visits related to drug use, reduce drug-related deaths, and address the opioid crisis. In addition, participants contribute to the community through legal tax-paying employment, Graduate Give Back Projects, and community service.

Mission and Goals
The mission of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Accountability Courts is to enhance public safety through a coordinated effort of treatment and intense supervision within the judicial system by promoting abstinence, law-abiding behavior, compliance, and participation through prompt intervention. Our goal is to reduce the recidivism rate by offering the offender an alternative to incarceration and the tools to abstain from illegal activity through a combined effort of cost-effective measures that encourage the offender to become a productive and law-abiding citizen. Those who violate the program terms and are terminated from the program may face probation revocation and prison sentences. 

Drug Court

The Adult Felony Drug Court (“Drug Court”) is a post-plea model offered to eligible offenders charged with felony offenses related to drug use. Drug Court is also offered as an alternative to a revocation for those offenders who are on probation and may subsequently test positive for, or are battling, substance abuse. Entry into the program requires a voluntary commitment to a minimum of 18 months (maximum of 36 months) in an intensive outpatient program. Upon successful completion of the program, graduates may receive restricted cases, dismissed cases, or modified sentences – depending on the plea made prior to entering the program. 

After an arrest, defendants are identified and referred by the defense attorney. The District Attorney’s office screens each participant for public safety risk, as only non-violent, low-risk offenders are appropriate for these programs. Once eligible, a Team Member will assess the offender for substance use severity, risk of recidivism, and treatment needs in order to ensure that this program is the right “dosage” of treatment for the offender. The offender will then be brought before the entire Drug Court Team, who will make a decision after reviewing the assessment results and talking with the offender about why he/she wants to be in the program. The Drug Court Team consists of the Judge, Coordinator, Case Manager, District Attorney, Felony Probation, Law Enforcement, Defense Attorney, and Treatment Providers. Once the offender is accepted into the program, he/she must plead guilty to the charges and be sworn into the program through Superior Court. 


Family Dependency Treatment Court

The Family Dependency Treatment Court (FDTC) is similar to Drug Court, although it is an intensive outpatient program that runs through the Juvenile Court and does not require eligible participants to have felony charges. Instead, the FDTC is offered to parents who are struggling with substance abuse and either have a dependency case or pending criminal charges that could put him/her in jeopardy of having parental rights terminated. Oftentimes, parents are referred through the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and have an open DFCS case; parents with private dependency cases without DFCS involvement may also be eligible. 

Like Drug Court, the FDTC is an 18- to 36-month program in which entry is voluntary. Once a parent is referred to the program, he/she must be assessed for appropriateness and accepted by the FDTC Team. Participants are screened for eligibility and approved by the District Attorney’s office so that only those who are non-violent and low public safety risks are approved. The main goals of the FDTC are to teach parents how to live sober, law-abiding lives and to reunify the family. Safety of the children and the community are of the utmost importance. The FDTC Team consists of the Juvenile Court Judge, Coordinator, Case Manager, Parent Attorney, Child Attorney, Felony Probation, Special Assistant Attorney General (an attorney who represents DFCS), DFCS, CASA, and the Treatment Providers. Family Treatment Court has partnered with Circle of Hope, Mustard Seed Counseling, and PCAH: Family Resource Center to provide family treatment and services to the participants.


Mental Health Court

Mental Health Court (MHC) is similar to Drug Court, although it is an intensive outpatient program intended to treat felons whose mental health instability has been the root issue. Oftentimes, people with severe mental health issues fall through the cracks of available treatment and so end up in the criminal justice system as a default. MHC is a program that combines the accountability of the court and the local mental health system to create an intensive outpatient program.

Like Drug Court, the MHC is an 18- to 36-month program in which entry is voluntary. Once a participant is referred to the program, he/she must be assessed for appropriateness and accepted by the MHC Team. Participants are screened for eligibility and approved by the District Attorney’s office so that only those who are non-violent and low public safety risks are approved. The main goals of the MHC are to teach participants how to manage mental health symptoms, maintain medication stability, and learn how to keep themselves and those around them safe. Safety of participant and the community are of the utmost importance. The MHC Team consists of the Superior Court Judge, Coordinator, Case Manager, Public Defender (or representative), District Attorney (or representative), Felony Probation, and Treatment Providers. Mental Health Court has partnered with AVITA Community Partners to provide intensive outpatient services to active participants.

Costs

Each participant must pay $175 per month towards their own treatment, which saves the community money and allows participants to invest in their own recovery. All of the programs are funded through a combination of grants, DATE funds, donations, and monthly participant fees. The cost of incarcerating one offender for one year costs taxpayers roughly $15,000. The cost for giving one offender treatment for a year is about $2000. Not only does the program not cost the community any money, it actually saves the community money by a) employing over 50 members of the community as full-time or contracted workers, b) requiring every participant to work a tax-paying job or be in school full-time, and c) reducing costs in criminal justice, public health, and victimization. In addition, employers in the community can be sure that participants who work for them will be highly supervised and drug-free. In all five programs, we have up to 170 active participants. Incarcerating the same number of nonviolent offenders without offering treatment would cost the community around $2.2 million per year – without ever changing the behavior of an offender who would then be released back into the community after a short sentence. All participants are required to do a Give Back Project that benefits the community long-term as well as to pay any restitution owed to victims of crimes committed before exiting the program. 


Objectives

The Mountain Judicial Accountability Courts strive to meet the following objectives and provide the following services:
•    To improve the economy of the community by requiring each participant to work a tax-paying job in the community as well as by reducing avoidable expenses associated with incarceration, indigent medical costs, victimization, and other criminal justice costs
•    To reduce high levels of drug use and drug-related crime in the community 
•    To promote safety for the children and members of the community
•    To provide early screening, assessment, and intervention for substance abuse
•    To provide effective and consistent court supervision, including monthly hearings that track progress and/or violations for each participant
•    To promote abstinence from drugs by providing each participant with a minimum of 2 random drug screens per week
•    To provide every participant an individual treatment program tailored to his/her needs with a certified counselor
•    To increase community education/literacy by requiring participants to complete a literacy course, GED, or high school diploma
•    To assist participants in understanding and accessing community resources


Benefits for Participants

In most cases, those who participate in the Mountain Judicial Circuit Accountability Courts will have:
•    Renewed sense of self-esteem and self-worth
•    Safe and stable housing
•    Weekly case management and/or community advocacy
•    Long-term sobriety
•    Intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment
•    Individual counseling and treatment plans
•    Healthy and effective coping skills to deal with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, triggers, and cravings
•    Relapse Prevention Plans
•    A sponsor and sober support system
•    GED/High School Diploma or higher education
•    A legal form of stable income (tax-paying job)
•    Regained trust and respect of loved ones
•    Reduced or restricted legal sentences