JoCo on the Go Podcast: New Treatment Courts
On episode #160 of JoCo on the Go, we take a look at treatment courts in Johnson County. Building on the success of a Veterans Treatment Court, the county has launched two new treatment courts, one for behavioral health and another adult treatment court, commonly known as drug court. These courts provide pathways for defendants in the criminal justice system to receive supervision, evaluation and treatment for issues that may underlie criminal behavior instead of focusing on more traditional approaches.
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|Veterans treatment court
|Two new treatment courts
|The steps of the treatment court program
|When expungement comes into play
|How to apply for treatment court
Andy Hyland 0:00
Building on the success of Johnson County's existing veterans treatment court, the county has recently launched two new treatment courts. And these new courts provide opportunities for defendants in situations involving substance abuse or mental health issues to potentially receive treatment instead of punishment.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Andy Hyland 0:32
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Andy Hyland. I'm a Johnson County resident and an employee of Johnson County Government. Our guests are here today to talk about the expanding treatment court model in Johnson County, and how they offer a potentially life-changing experience for those who graduate from these programs. Barbara Stroble helps administer these programs for the District Court. Barbara, hello, and can you tell us a little bit about your title and your role?
Barbara Stroble 1:00
Yes, my role as the court fidelity and program manager was created to help implement and oversee these treatment court programs. There is a treatment court model with key components that we hope to follow in each of these courts. And we have multiple grants that support these courts. And so I will help manage those and make sure that we are meeting those requirements as well.
Andy Hyland 1:25
Very good. And we're also joined by District Court Judge Kelly Ryan, who has been involved with our veterans treatment court and will be the primary judge overseeing the adult treatment court. Welcome, Judge Ryan.
Judge Kelly Ryan 1:36
Thank you, Andy. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.
Andy Hyland 1:39
You bet. And so, Barbara, you've worked with our veterans treatment court program, which launched in 2016 I believe, and can you share with our listeners a little bit about how that program works?
Barbara Stroble 1:51
Yes. So our veterans treatment court is somewhat unique in that there are two different tracks in that court. So we have a diversion track and we have a probation track. Our diversion track goes through the District attorney's Office, and our probation track is supervised by Johnson County Courts Services. But ultimately, veterans apply for that program. We use evidence-based screening tools to determine if they are an appropriate fit for the program. So we do, like, a risk/needs assessment. And then we also do...the VA does an assessment or Johnson County Mental Health, depending on whether the veteran is eligible for VA benefits. And if they are screened into our program and accepted, they complete a five-phase program. Those phases vary in length. But ultimately, the veterans are required to come to court really often. They meet with their probation officer really often. They are drug tested often. It's a very intense supervision. We work really hard with the VA and Johnson County Mental Health. They provide incredible treatment opportunities for the veterans. And if they complete all of our requirements successfully, they graduate the program.
Andy Hyland 3:03
That's great, thank you. And good Ryan, maybe you could describe...there's two new courts that we're adding to this mix. And if you could describe each of them maybe on a high level and who they're designed to serve?
Judge Kelly Ryan 3:15
Sure. So in the month of November, we began both a adult drug treatment court, as well as a behavioral health court. They are specialty courts and treatment courts, similar to a veterans treatment court. The primary difference obviously being that they're not veterans, but it's the same principles that have been used in other courts that really all of these treatment courts began over 25 years ago now. And they're nationwide. There's literally thousands of them throughout the states. And it's both in metropolitan areas as well as rural areas. The adult drug treatment court, as we are implementing it, as a starting point is for persons on probation. And there is what's called a Senate Bill 123 mandatory drug treatment. What that is, that's been in effect since 2003 in the state of Kansas, and that provides funding for treatment for these people on probation. There is a one-time fee of $300 that they pay, and they get an entire 18 months' worth of treatment for their $300 contribution. Those people who are on probation, they may have had problems on probation and are at risk of having their probation revoked and having them serve their sentence. Those are gonna be a lot of our folks. It's not a diversion. Early on, practice, as it is in veterans treatment court, is an option. What this does then is get...it's much more intensive than even the most what's called intensive supervision. This is meant for people who are willing to do those 18 months, where they are going to be seeing a probation officer at least once a week. They're going to be submitting urinalysis testing to ensure that they're not using drugs at least twice a week. That is, on average, eight to 11 times a month. And that's almost triple what a standard probation person would have for those tests. Plus, another very key component is that they are to be engaged in, after having an assessment, being engaged with treatment to address their substance use disorder. So our program for drug treatment court for adults, if they can go through all these phases that are spaced out over those 18 months, and they're gonna have bumps in the road, they're going to have failures, they're going to have relapses. But we deal with those by addressing specifically, there can be sanctions, and people may not make it all the way through. But the goal is to support them to get the treatment and continue with the treatment. Because the treatment works. That's what's going to change persons from the cycle of continuing to use. And we know that the more that they are consistently using drugs, they've already shown a propensity to commit crimes, so that's likely to happen again. This can cut them off from that and continue them on that road to recovery. And at the end of 18 months, if they graduate from the treatment court, either adult drug treatment or behavioral health, the legislature just passed new provision in the statutes last year, that that conviction can be automatically expunged immediately. There's no waiting period. So that's a great benefit. And kind of a real benefit for the community. But it's also primarily a benefit for the people making it through. Behavioral health court is the same principle, only those are persons who've committed crimes. They may be early on, even before a conviction. But there'll be plenty of them that will be post-conviction, meaning they're on probation. What they look for there is they have to get evaluated through Johnson County Mental Health. And that evaluation will then determine if they have a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Sometimes they refer to it as a persistent, severe and persistent mental illness. If that's the case, and they're willing to engage in that type of treatment, that they're doing the same program as we are. We also know, and I know I'm going on at length about this, but we know that many of the people that we are going to be dealing with and drug treatment court have mental health issues. Many of the people in the mental health behavioral health court have drug use problems. We will be working together. If things kind of get out of balance and shift one way or the other, they may move to the other court to more emphasize that more drastic or more prevalent issue if it's causing them problems.
Andy Hyland 8:26
Thank you for that. And I think as I listened to you describe these programs, it sounds like these are designed to get people out of a kind of a cycle where they're appearing in front of a criminal justice system again and again. And instead of focusing on the punishment angle, focusing more on treatment. Do I have that right? Is that the general goal of the program?
Judge Kelly Ryan 8:47
Absolutely. Because the prisons are so crowded, and the legislature and the courts and the Supreme Court have told us prison is meant for the more serious offenders. And while some of these people that are using drugs are serious offenders, but if your crime is lower-level property-type crimes, and a lot of it's where there's a definite correlation with their drug use, they're not going to be going to prison anyway. They're going to be on a standard probation. These people are identified and they're willing to be under more scrutiny through the drug treatment court, because they generally come into it saying, "I now recognize my problem. I need the help."
Andy Hyland 9:31
Yeah and I think the judge did a pretty good job, Barbara, of describing what the kind of process will look like with the additional steps that people will have to go through and additional scrutiny, as you say, that they'll be subjecting them to. But can you just take us through what that experience looks like? Maybe for somebody who might sign up for the adult treatment court program, what kind of steps they'll have to go through, step-by-step along the way?
Barbara Stroble 9:55
Yes, so the adult drug treatment court program is six phases. So like judge said, it is 18 months long. And so we've made the phases a little bit smaller. I think that helps people accomplish them when they see a smaller goal and they're able to get there quicker than if you just, you know, made each phase really long. Like judge mentioned, they'll see their probation officer once a week. They will come to court every other week. They will take many, many drug tests. You know, the accountability factor here is large. And there is a multidisciplinary team surrounding these people on treatment court supervision, and I think that's the biggest difference. You know, there are highly skilled professionals in a room all just sitting there wanting to help these people in every way. And so someone in adult drug treatment court will have access to Johnson County Mental Health services if they should need them. They will work through 18 months of mandated drug treatment. And that can look very different for individuals. That could be inpatient treatment, that could be intensive outpatient treatment, and they can kind of work their way down or if halfway through the program they're in need of inpatient treatment, you know, we can get that taken care of for them. So it's just kind of all the right people at the table ready to help them. And like judge said, if they complete the program successfully after that 18 months, their charges can be expunged if they're eligible.
Andy Hyland 11:27
And I will say I was fortunate enough to attend the most recent veterans treatment court graduation that was hosted here. And what a day that was. It was it was really powerful for me to see the experience that these folks had gone through and the successful completion of it at the end. What's that like for both of you to see? Judge Ryan, when you see somebody go through that process and complete it to the end? What is that process like?
Judge Kelly Ryan 11:56
It is very powerful, Andy. And it's unique, because we're developing a relationship, literally, with these people that in ordinary court we don't, because there's just so many people, so many cases, and you can't devote that much time to every case. So putting that time into it and seeing these people consistently every other week, maybe, you know, as they get in the later stages, it may be only once a month, but still, you're seeing them so much. And the engagement is you're talking to them about what's going on in their life, be it good or bad, you know, what's causing problems. And by the time they get to graduation, not only is it great for them, but it reinforces for everybody on the team I think, that what this is doing is working, and it's helping people.
Andy Hyland 12:52
Barbara, what are your thoughts? I know you work with many of these folks really closely. When you see them at the end, what is that like for you?
Barbara Stroble 13:00
It is my favorite day. It's my favorite day in my job always. You know, it is incredible to see the journey, it's an honor really to be a part of it. You know, we meet these people, often times the lowest point in their lives. You know, they've had law enforcement contact. They may be at rock bottom. And we're able to kind of swoop in and help pick them up and, you know, really witness the work that they do and see their lives ultimately changed for the better. You know, they do most of that work on their own, but they have a lot of support along the way. And it's a privilege to be a part of that.
Andy Hyland 13:40
That's great. And I think, you know, Judge Ryan, you said these courts are based on a national model, and that we're replicating some success that's been developed in other places. Just what do you think makes these programs so popular across the country? Is that some of these things we've been talking about already?
Judge Kelly Ryan 13:58
Yeah, I think what makes them successful...they're popular because they're successful. And they're popular because it's taking a different approach to the same problem. Andy, I've been a judge for a little over 15 years. We've been trying to get drug courts here because they were throughout the whole state of Kansas. There's probably 10 before we ever even started talking about that. And it wasn't until about 2014, when I was on the criminal bench, that we started working towards that, and there's been a lot of resistance because in the legal justice system, there's a lot of people who are very suspicious of it. It's like, why are you giving them special treatment, you know? They ought to just go serve their probation or, if they can't handle it, go to prison. And the whole idea of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again thinking you're gonna get a different result is evident from that, because it has been going on forever. That's the reason we ended up with a veterans treatment court is because we didn't have enough support for a drug treatment court. Because of that success in nearly the eight years that we've been doing a veterans treatment court here, that was the springboard to help us finally get to a point to do a drug treatment court. And then add in behavioral health court because, quite frankly, that's where the wave has come to, of recognizing it, dealing with the problem, not just saying, "Here's your probation. If you can't make it, go to prison."
Andy Hyland 15:37
And criminally, what happens at the end of this process? You mentioned expungement. How does an expungement differ from, say, a diversion or some other part of the criminal process that may be available to other folks not through this program?
Judge Kelly Ryan 15:53
Right, a diversion is from the front end once a case is filed. And it's meant for, generally, it's a one-time opportunity, with no other prior record or pretty insignificant other contact with the law, and it's a lower-level type of crime, you can enter into what essentially is a probation. If you fulfill all the requirements at the end of the year or 18 months on diversion, your case is dismissed. So you never have a conviction. What we have in treatment courts are persons who are charged. And as I said, the adult drug treatment court is dealing only with those people who have been convicted. Those convictions are not higher-level crimes, crimes against persons or sex offenses, things like that, and certainly not murders, anything at all like that. But if they are either primarily a drug crime, they're charged with drug possession of some type, or distribution, or it's a crime that's related to their use of drugs, their drugs are driving their theft charges, their identity theft, their unlawful use of a credit card, pretty standard types of property crimes. If that's what it is with a drug issue, then they will have a conviction. And their probation would usually be a year, maybe two years. And at the end of that, if they successfully complete a probation, then the case is over, they have to wait a period of time to get an expungement. Here, at the end of the 18 months or so, if they graduate from a a treatment court, they are eligible to have that expunged, meaning that conviction is taken off the books. The only time it ever has any relevance is if they get in trouble again, it's always there, can be considered. But to the public, it's taken off any website, KBI scratches it from the records, there's no record of that conviction. Now, that doesn't mean anything prior, but at least it gives them the opportunity to kind of wipe the slate clean.
Andy Hyland 18:06
That's great. And I think, so it sounds like this happens maybe at the sentencing phase, is that correct? When you would decide where to plug people in?
Judge Kelly Ryan 18:14
Andy Hyland 18:15
And that's a question I had is for both of you really, I mean, or for whichever of you would like to talk about it. How do people get involved in these programs? If they say, "Oh, this is for me. I want to sign up." Does the system helped guide them through that or do they flag it themselves? How does that work?
Judge Kelly Ryan 18:32
That's all you, Barb.
Barbara Stroble 18:32
So like I mentioned earlier, veterans treatment court is a little different with that diversion piece. So they would have to apply through the District Attorney's Office for diversion. And we route all veterans to Judge McCarthy's courtroom so that they have kind of a natural path to veterans treatment court if they would like to apply for that program. For the probation piece of veterans treatment court, as well as behavioral health court and adult drug courts, we have a referral form that you can fill out for any of those courts. You just mark which one you would like to apply for. That can be done through an attorney, the judge could, you know, in talking with them in court say, "Hey, is this something you'd like to potentially look into?" A judge can refer. They can refer themselves if they want to. Probation officers, we've had many referrals from probation officers. But they would just need to fill out that referral form and send it to email@example.com And we will take a look at it and go from there.
Andy Hyland 18:32
That is great. Thank you. One of my last questions here, what lessons have we learned from doing a veterans treatment court for so long that might apply to these two new courts? Anything you've picked up from that experience?
Judge Kelly Ryan 19:51
Oh Barbara's got more experience overall it with the veterans treatment court, because she was working in the probation aspect of that, dealing directly with them. Whereas the judge, we get all the reports, we know what's going on until we see them face-to-face in court, which has a good place in all of that. But I think what I've learned from it and seeing the veterans treatment court is not only that it works, but the success stories that you have, you have some people that graduate and maybe they just kind of got by. But most people, you can see a change in them. And I think the greatest part, I think, from veterans treatment court is when someone has gone through the program, graduates, they didn't have the expungement before, but they've graduated. And after a period of time they apply and they come back, and they serve as a mentor for other people that are going through the treatment court. And I think we'll have the same thing. They call them a peer mentor in a drug court, someone that's been there. They've walked through that same issue or issues. And who better to help someone than someone else who can relate directly with them?
Andy Hyland 19:52
Barbara, anything to add?
Barbara Stroble 21:11
I mean, I've learned so much from veterans treatment court. I would say getting the right people into the court is really important. So we're serving, you know, the most high-risk, high-needs individuals, people who really, really need this. You know, we don't want to over-supervise people who don't need it or, you know, overtreat people who may not need it. So it's really important that we're assessing those people well and getting the right people in. And then also just having a really strong team in place I think is really important. You know, this work is hard. And, you know, we lean on each other a lot, and we communicate a lot with one another. And there are some really amazing people involved in these courts in this county. And we, you know, we all work together to serve this population. And I think we do a good job of it.
Andy Hyland 22:02
That's great. Anything else that you both would like to say about these treatment courts? Anything we should have asked but didn't?
Judge Kelly Ryan 22:08
The only thing I want to throw in, Andy, is to make sure to give some props to Johnson County Mental Health, because they've really been a leader in helping us do this. For both treatment courts, not only financially but staff-wise, expertise-wise, as well as our court services through the District Court and Community Corrections for Johnson County. Those are all the integral players that are involved in these treatment teams that makes it work. And everybody started these. It wasn't even on a shoestring. It was we're just going to do it because we need to do it. It's not extra staffing that we've got. We have eventually since then, but it was all done because people knew is the right thing to do.
Andy Hyland 22:59
That's great. Barbara, anything else?
Barbara Stroble 23:02
I don't think so. Thank you so much.
Andy Hyland 23:04
Well, thanks to all of you for sharing such good information today. We appreciate you coming on and helping others understand a little bit more about the treatment court experience. So thank you very much.
Judge Kelly Ryan 23:15
Thank you, Andy.
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