The Advocate, Vol. 21, No. 2 (March 1999)

Kentucky Drug Courts:
Court Supervision of a Drug Treatment Program
Hon. Mary C. Noble & Connie Reed, MSW

Since the mid-1980's, court dockets across the nation have become overloaded with drug cases or drug-involved offenders, leaving fewer resources available for more serious, violent offenders. In the ensuing years it has become clear that 1) incarceration does very little to break the cycle of illegal drug use followed by crime; 2) incarcerated offenders exhibit a high rate of recidivism; and 3) drug abuse treatment is very effective in reducing both drug addiction and drug-related crime. In an attempt to find more productive strategies, the Miami, Florida courts, let by Janet Reno, then a local prosecutor, and Timothy Murray developed a program where defendants who had a history of drug abuse were provided treatment, frequent contact with their judge, and drug testing. This program was so successful that it became a prototype for the nation, known as Drug Courts.

The guiding component of Drug Courts is the recognition that incarceration of individuals for their drug-abusing lifestyles will only remove them from their environments for certain periods of time. Without providing treatment, education, and life skills training, they return to the same destructive cycle, for themselves and the victims of their crimes. In 1997, Kentuckyís institutions housed 12,705 inmates at an average cost of $14,433 per person. Drug Courts provide alternative services for about 10% of that cost, stop drug abuse and related criminal activity, and break the cycle of addiction that runs through families.

Drug Courts include other key components:

Participants enter the program through probation referrals or diversion recommendations. Eligible defendants are identified early in the process based on the nature of current charges. The program is explained to the defendant and the criminal defense attorney. If the defendant is interested, a criminal history is obtained to ensure that there are no prior crimes of violence. A clinical assessment is conducted and a urine screen is done. If a defendant assesses as program qualified, he or she is assigned to a Drug Court judge, who will have continued jurisdiction over the case. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the diverted charges will be dismissed, and the probated charge will be conditionally discharged. These outcomes provide a powerful incentive for a defendant to complete the program.

The program is rigorous. All participants are given a weekly calendar when they go to Drug Court. This calendar sets forth events and activities the participant is required to complete during that week, such as scheduled treatment meetings, daily journal topics, court appearances, and reporting instructions. Participants must call every day to see if they are to be drug screened that day, write in their journal every day, and attend NA or AA a set number of times per week. Case specialists individualize the calendars. All participants MUST have employment or be enrolled in a full time educational program, unless medically excused; periods of unemployment require a minimum of 20 hours community service. As they progress through the program, more activities are added and supervision is decreased in order to allow the participant to blend into a permanent life style.

To most addicted persons, the demands of the program are extremely difficult, but they are in fact no more than what is required of daily drug-free, crime-free living. Nonetheless, a relatively high percentage of participants will not be able to complete the program. This is not perceived as a

program failure, but is rather recognized as evidence that drug-addicted defendants fall into three categories: those who have minor drug use problems and can successfully complete ordinary probation requirements; those who are too addicted to function successfully in an outpatient program such as Drug Court and must be incarcerated for their own and the publicís safety; and those who have serious addiction problems and are amenable to outpatient treatment. Participants are exited from the program only when it is apparent that they can not perform as an outpatient. The stringent program requirements will usually identify these defendants within a few months. The fact that must be recognized here is that while these defendants clearly need help, they are not appropriate for this particular program, and resources must be preserved for those who can benefit.

The program takes approximately two years to complete. Participants are making a significant time investment, often longer than a serve out of their sentences. However, the program offers many things to the participant that a prison term would not. Those who complete the program obviously consider those benefits to be greater than the mere passage of time. Services are provided by in-house staff workers as well as through contracted services with local mental health facilities, health departments, vocational rehab and other state and local agencies. The program is performance-based with measurable expectations and accountability through a sanction system ranging from community service to jail detention for several days.


On July 1, 1996, the Administrative Office of the Courts received funding from the General Assembly for Fayette Drug Court. Other Drug Court sites have been added and are administered through AOC in conjunction with local Drug Court committees and judges. The state appropriation is used as a 25% cash match to apply for grant monies. The Kentucky Justice Cabinet approved $690,166 for FY 98-99 (third-year application) under the provisions of the Narcotics Control Assistance Program to fund the Regional Drug Court for five sites:

Grants through the Office of Justice Programs, Drug Courts Program Office, totaling $232,500 have funded the following additional planning sites: Several other jurisdictions across Kentucky have expressed an interest in applying for planning grants for the upcoming year.


In FY 96-97, only three programs were in operation: Jefferson, Fayette and Warren Counties. Jefferson County accepted 185 participants, terminated 40 and graduated 42. In their start-up year, Fayette and Warren Counties had no graduates, but Fayette accepted 105, terminated 46; Warren accepted 42, terminated 2. In FY 97-98, Jefferson accepted 218, terminated 43, graduated 45; Fayette accepted 203, terminated 37, graduated 42; Warren accepted 75, terminated 30, graduated 14. Fulton and Kenton Counties started programs, and Fulton accepted 16, terminated 8; Kenton accepted 9, terminated 1.


The Fayette Drug Court held its first session on August 16, 1996. Since that time, 278 participants have been treated. On January 5, 1999, Fayette held its 6th graduation, bringing the total number of graduates in the program to 73. Of those 73, only one has been arrested for a subsequent felony offense; two others have been arrested for misdemeanor offenses. One hundred and twenty participants have been exited from the program for reasons other than successful completion.

During 1998, Fayette Drug Court treated 197 active participants, among whom 146 were employed full-time; 14 part-time; and 17 were in some type of educational program, either high school, college or vocational school. Prior to entering the program only 46 had full-time employment and only 5 were in educational pursuit. During this year, 7 drug-free babies were born and 9 participants regained custody of minor children that had been removed by the Cabinet for Families and Children.

Frequent and random urine testing indicated at the end of 1998 that out of 6,228 urine screens, only .06% tested positive.


Literature indicates that family is one factor related to being at risk for substance abuse. Children with unstable living environments, either because of parental substance abuse and/or criminal justice involvement are at high risk of engaging in these behaviors themselves. The children of Drug Court participants are doubly at risk due to their parentsí being drug abusers and having convictions. Fayette, Jefferson and Warren Drug Courts have received prevention grants through the Kentucky Incentive Project to establish a Strengthening Families Program.

This program will use a family prevention program with proven success in a variety of different populations in order to target 9-14 year old children of Drug Court participants. This prevention intervention will 1) prevent initiation of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use for those who have not begun to use; 2) reduce use among users; 3) reduce positive attitudes toward substance abuse; and reduce significant family risk factors, thereby stopping the cycle of addiction and related criminal activity.


During the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) annual conference in May, 1998, Kentucky Drug Courts received national recognition. The NADCP has named the Fayette Drug Court a NADCP/COPS mentor training site. COPS stands for Community Oriented Policing Services. The mentor program recognizes the importance of a unified system involving drug courts and local law enforcement. The Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government police force has been recognized as an outstanding force on national ratings, and has been fully supportive of Fayette Drug Court by assigning a liaison officer, making home visits with case specialists, hosting mentor trainees from various states, aiding with alcohol testing and many other functions. This strong law enforcement support of the drug court program has been a major factor in its success in Fayette County.

The Jefferson Drug Court Program was named a Mentor Drug Court for a second term at the annual conference. The Mentor Drug Court Network is based on the premise that local drug courts are the most logical place to educate and train court practitioners. Both Fayette and Jefferson drug courts will be hosting training sessions for the grantees of the Office of Justice Programís planning and implementation grants.

The benefits to society from Drug Court programs are numerous and far-reaching. Personal, financial and societal areas are impacted, since these participants are paying restitution, child support, taxes and are not taking up prison beds needed for violent offenders. By offering these participants a chance to make positive, life-long changes in their life-styles, Drug Courts are affecting change in the population which has been most frequently involved with the criminal justice system. This can only be a positive use of public resources and the courtís enforcement powers.

Hon. Mary C. Noble
Chief Judge, Fayette Circuit Court
215 W. Main St.
Lexington, KY 40507
Tel: (606) 246-2212

Connie Reed, MSW
Treatment Coordinator
Fayette Drug Court
149 N. Limestone
Lexington, KY 40507
Tel: (606) 246-2501; Fax: (606) 246-2503

Judge Mary C. Noble obtained a bachelor's degree in English from Austin Peay State University in 1971 and a master's degree in psychology in 1975. She attended law school at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and received her J.D. in December 1981. Judge Noble has been a speaker on a wide array of topics, and has served as Chair of the statewide Gender Fairness in the Courts Committee; on the state Civil Rules Committee, the Attorney General's Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse, the Executive Branch Committee for a Collaborative Approach to Substance Abuse, and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, a statutory committee charged with overseeingoverseeing juvenile justice reform.  As a practitioner, Judge Noble was a litigation attorney, practicing the areas of school law, personal injury and criminal law. She has done both defense and plaintiff representation. Prior to her election as circuit judge in 1992, she served as Domestic Relations Commissioner for Third Division, Fayette Circuit Court.

Connie Reed is the Treatment Coordinator for the Fayette Drug Court. She is responsible for com-pleting assessments on potential clients, main-taining contact with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, and conducting group, family, and individual counseling. Connie has been with the Fayette Drug Court since it's inception. Prior to working with Drug Court, she worked ten years in the Social Work field with court committed juveniles, adult and child sexual abuse victims, and the dually diagnosed chronically mentally ill. She earned her BSW from Morehead State Univer-sity and her Masters Degree from the University of Kentucky.

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