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A little more than 15 years ago, specialty drug courts were just emerging in jurisdictions across the country. In the 1,400 that have since taken root, experts continue to take stock of what works, and what does not. One of the recent verdicts: Some jurisdictions have found that young offenders-a population that could significantly benefit from a specialty court’s unique blend of justice, intervention and social work-are dropping out of drug court programs at alarming rates. To solve this problem, separate tracks should be created for them, many in the system assert. So far, Brooklyn, N.Y., and St. Louis and are among the few jurisdictions that have acted on that contention. One of the biggest risk factors for re-offending is young age, said Michael Rempel, research director for the New York State Center for Court Innovation. His office published what many consider to be the pre-eminent state drug-court evaluation in 2003. “New York courts have looked at that and are part of the current trend in the field, which is to develop more targeted intervention for the young adult population,” Rempel said. Caroline Cooper, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Drug Abuse Clearinghouse at the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, said that “[m]any programs have noted the special problem of attracting and retaining young adults. “Studies show that drug taking arrests their cognitive development and their ability to make choices . . . .19-year-olds see the 40-year-olds [in treatment and in court] and they can’t relate.” Statistics show that defendants who graduate from the nation’s drug courts recidivate less, and that those who participate for a while get into trouble less often than those who have never taken part, Cooper explained. Problems in St. Louis Young adults in St. Louis’ drug court were not signing up, and those who did were dropping out in droves, according to Jeffrey Kushner, the St. Louis drug court administrator. Almost 90% of 17-year-olds dropped out. Of that total, 94.9% of early terminators were African-American, according to a two-year study done by the Institute of Applied Research in St. Louis. “Most are not drug dependent, they are drug abusers of marijuana and alcohol,” Kushner said. “Many were arrested for selling hard drugs that they didn’t use. Our treatment wasn’t relevant.” Since December 2000, 17- to 22-year-old nonviolent offenders-who are not assessed as drug dependent-may enter the preplea diversionary felony court’s Young Persons Track. It’s the kind of program that “[e]very urban center should have,” Kushner said. Instead of enrolling in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, they spend their time learning life skills and in other activities that target their individual needs, such as school, drug education, group therapy or work, Kushner said. The study, spanning 32 months, showed that early termination rate had declined by 20%, and the rate of graduation had almost tripled in the 17- to 20-year-old group, noted L. Anthony Loman, institute research director. In 2003, a post-plea young adult program was started in Brooklyn for 16- to 18-year-olds who have been charged as adults with nonviolent felonies, whether drug-related or not. They had been precluded from early intervention before the program started. Funded by the New York State Unified Court system, the goal is to take the program statewide. Since its inception through April 1, 2005, 195 young adults entered the program. Forty-six have graduated and had their pleas withdrawn and their charges dismissed, 99 are still active and 50 are on warrant or have failed.

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