ADOLESCENT DRUG USERS: THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IS MISSING AN IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY

Authors


  • Caroline S. Cooper is associate director of the Justice Programs Office of the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington D.C. and a research faculty member of the School of Public Affairs. She is a graduate of Smith College, Howard University (M.A.) and the Washington College of Law at American University. For a number of years, she has been involved with the provision of technical assistance, evaluation, and training services to courts and other adjudication system agencies engaged in judicial improvement efforts. She has also been a practicing attorney and an assistant public defender and has written numerous publications addressing a variety of judicial system issues relating to the management of criminal, civil, juvenile, and family matters. Previously, she served for five years on the faculty of Dunbar High School, Washington D.C. Her most recent publications have addressed topics relating to court emergency preparedness; drug courts, civil and criminal differentiated case management, and strategies courts are using to manage their caseloads and include the multi volume reports of the 1997 and 2001 National Drug Court Surveys; Drug Case Management and Treatment Intervention Strategies in the State and Local Courts; BJA Differentiated Case Management Program Brief; and Guidebook for Implementing a Differentiated Case Management System. She is the director of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance Drug Court Clearinghouse Project and associate director of the BJA Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project conducted by the School of Public Affairs at American University.

ccooper@american.edu

Abstract

A significant number of youth and young adults who use drugs have fallen through the cracks of our juvenile and adult justice systems in terms of receiving any meaningful services. The situation is due to a number of factors, including the reliance on adolescent self reporting utilized by most of the research, the failure of justice and other systems to routinely assess youth for either current drug use or indicia of drug use (e.g., “resiliency” or “protective” factors), and confidentiality and other restrictions pertaining to access to juvenile justice system information. Yet, retrospective reviews of drug use patterns for adults in the criminal justice system make it clear that drug use is beginning for most of these offenders during adolescence or before. This article urges (1) juvenile courts to develop mechanisms for systematically screening youth who come into the system for drug use and/or propensities for drug use and (2) adult courts to embark on similar strategies and to develop adolescent tracks that would be geared to providing the services these youth (despite their chronological age) need and would otherwise not receive in the adult system.

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