My take on accountability courts
In 2012, Governor Deal appointed a former drug court judge to the Criminal Justice Reform Council, and charged him with finding ways to improve Georgia’s criminal justice system. The Council ultimately recommended increased funding for various accountability court programs throughout the state.
Recently, I came across an article about accountability courts which essentially stated that these courts have a lot to do with the slowing down the increase in Georgia’s prison population. Many of my clients are unfamiliar with accountability courts until a prosecutor makes a plea offer that includes participation in an accountability court. So, what are these courts, and how do they work?
First, there are different types of accountability courts. These include:
- Felony Drug Courts – for individuals charged with felony offenses resulting from a drug problem (usually, though not necessarily, the underlying charge is a drug charge);
- Veterans Courts – for veterans of the U.S. Armed Services who are charged with either felony or misdemeanor offenses;
- Mental Health Courts – for individuals whose mental health diagnoses are the root cause of their criminal charges;
- DUI Courts – for individuals with DUI charges (typically offered for individuals with multiple lifetime charges);
- Family Treatment Courts – typically for individuals involved in the child welfare system, although individuals who have certain criminal charges may also be eligible.
Some jurisdictions also offer similar programs for juveniles, mostly for drug or mental health issues.
It is important to remember that no two courts operate exactly alike, because they differ based on the type of court as well as the jurisdiction. Essentially, though, accountability courts have a team of personnel – usually a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, treatment providers, and a probation officer – who make up the treatment team. Accountability court participants are required to report frequently to the team for treatment and drug and alcohol testing. They are also required to make accountability court appearances where they speak to the judge and give the judge an update on how they are managing their treatment and responsibilities with the program. Many courts have “phases,” and as you progress through the program and “phase up” you are required to receive less treatment and are tested less. These programs vary in length.
So, do I recommend participation in an accountability court to my clients? Usually not unless my client is facing significant time in jail or prison. Accountability courts are extremely time consuming and burdensome. It can be extremely difficult to hold down a 9-5 job given the requirements of the program. They also can be expensive, as most programs require you to pay a monthly program fee in order to continue participating.
That said, an accountability court may be the right move for you. However, you should go into it with your eyes open. If you are facing criminal charges and are wondering if a treatment court is the right choice for you, you absolutely need to speak with an experienced Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney. I have experience with many kinds of treatment courts and can discuss them with you.