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Court-Ordered Treatment: What to Expect for Your Teen

Person in handcuffs.

Teens often downplay their behavioral changes or dismiss the notion that they are struggling with substance misuse. However, when the criminal justice system gets involved, denial is no longer an option.

If your teenager has been charged with a drug-related crime, all hope is not lost. He or she may be eligible for court-ordered treatment that could not only keep him or her out of jail but also put him or her on the path to sobriety.

Why Court-Ordered Treatment?

The option of court-ordered treatment has been around for some time. The idea is to keep non-serious, non-repetitive criminals from becoming incarcerated while forcing them to address their issues with drugs or alcohol in the hopes that they can become productive citizens.

This approach is especially attractive to the almost 50 percent of juvenile detainees who suffer from a substance use disorder. Rather than saddle teens with a criminal record as they enter adulthood, judges often opt to adjudicate minor crimes in “drug court” and make the completion of addiction treatment a condition of the offender’s sentence.

Criteria and Conditions

Though the requirements vary from state to state, teens can be eligible for court-ordered drug treatment if:

  • It is their first (or sometimes second) offense
  • They are not suspected of committing a sexual or violent crime
  • They are addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • They were impaired or intoxicated at the time of their arrest
  • Their crime was related to their substance misuse issues (like stealing money to buy drugs)
  • They are willing to plead guilty to their crime

If a teen meets these criteria, he or she can appear before a judge in drug court instead of having the case adjudicated in a regular court. Of course, any sentence will depend on the severity of the crime and other factors, but some of the conditions of court-ordered treatment may include:

  • Enrollment in and completion of an inpatient drug rehabilitation program
  • Completion of outpatient treatment which may involve individual therapy or support group sessions
  • A ban on all drug use and/or alcohol consumption
  • A requirement to refrain from any other criminal activity
  • Restrictions on leaving their home (i.e., a curfew or house arrest except for school or work)
  • Random and frequent drug testing
  • Periodic appearances in court for status updates
  • Other penalties like a fine, restitution to victims, or community service hours

Though state laws differ, it is not uncommon for these sentences to last as long as 12 to 24 months. The offender (or his or her parents) is frequently responsible for footing the bill for treatment and other costs associated with the sentence, but judges sometimes permit the state to cover the costs if there is a genuine financial need.

document stating Juvenile court.

In certain types of court-ordered treatment, teens can earn privileges or rewards for remaining compliant (like a later curfew or a bus pass) and might even have their criminal offense expunged from their record upon the completion of all of their requirements. However, if teens violate any of the conditions of their court-ordered treatment, a judge could send them to jail.

Court-Ordered Treatment Works

Though it may seem counter intuitive to some, mandated drug treatment has produced impressive results. Studies have shown higher completion rates for court-ordered drug treatment than for similar programs which are voluntary, as well as reduced recidivism rates for offenders who successfully fulfill their requirements.

If your teenager has been charged with a crime that stems from his or her substance use, do some research into the availability of drug courts in your area (or ask an attorney to assist you). Should your teen be fortunate enough to qualify for court-ordered treatment, be ready to provide emotional support for your child and demand strict adherence to the rules set forth by the court throughout your teen’s journey in the program.

Countless teens have emerged from court-ordered treatment with a hopeful, positive attitude and a determination to behave more responsibly and avoid alcohol and drugs. And given that incarcerating an offender can cost five times as much as providing substance misuse treatment, these drug courts are a smart investment of public funds as well. So when court-ordered treatment works like it should, it is a win-win for everyone.

If you need information on drug rehabilitation programs as part of court-ordered treatment, contact us today.

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