Drug and Mental Health Accountability Courts

Judge Doris L. Downs
Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane

Michael L. Cuffee- Interim Director
Brenda Griffin – Clinical Director

Accountability Court / Hope Hall
1135-A Jefferson Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30318
(404) 612-2400

In 1997, Fulton County's Felony Accountability Court opened to provide alcohol and drug treatment (AOD) to non-violent, drug-dependent felony defendants. They were provided the o pportunity to receive AOD treatment for their addiction and to avoid jail time if they successfully complete an intensive outpatient alcohol and drug-treatment program. Drug Court clients must complete a 6 or 18 month treatment program. Clients report to the Hope Hall treatment facility four days a week. The morning clients report from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and the evening clients report from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Hope Hall is the facility used to provide treatment for Superior Court of Fulton County.

In 2006, a study of all Drug Court graduates revealed that only 31 percent had been convicted of a subsequent offense. In 2011 a four year recidivism report was complete for the years of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. This report yielded a recidivism rate of 14 per cent.

In 2007, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners allocated additional funds to increase the capacity of Drug Court clients served. In August of 2011, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners granted an opportunity for an expansion project. Accountability Court was to admit 150 clients from Fulton County Jail in a two months time span in exchange for additional staff. Accountability Court rose to that challenge, 150 clients were admitted. The Board of Commissioner allocated funding for additional staff. Accountability Court is currently supervising nearly 400 participants.

Drug Court graduates are required to have verifiable employment, a stable living environment, a minimum of six months of clean time and must have paid all of their drug court fines. As productive and stabilized citizens, they pay taxes and have typically become motivated to go back to school and to continue their education.

Drug Court is a non-traditional program for felony offenders addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. It is an accountability alternative to the typical adversarial approach employed with offenders and involves the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender, Probation and treatment and community groups working together for the benefit of the offenders and the community at large. Offenders participating in Drug Court have the charges that brought them into the program dismissed upon graduation from the program or they are placed on probation and may avoid jail time through successful completion of the program.

To graduate from Drug Court, offenders are required to adhere to a rigorous set of rules governing their behavior for a minimum of 18 months. During this time, offenders are required to actively participate in an intensive out-patient rehabilitation program operated by the Drug Court staff or to participate in some other court-approved treatment program. They are also required to appear regularly before a Judge to review their progress and to provide urine samples for random drug screening which is performed in their on-site drug testing laboratory.

The program is divided into six phases of three months duration for each. Participants admitted to the program report to the outpatient treatment program four days per week. As they progress through the phases, their mandatory reporting requirements decrease until they are reporting only twice per month during the aftercare portion of the program. In addition to drug and alcohol intervention services, Drug Court provides assistance in other areas such as employment readiness, education remediation, in-house GED preparation and housing assistance for homeless offenders.

To graduate from the program, defendants must refrain from using drugs and/or alcohol for a minimum of six months, be employed or enrolled in school full-time, pay a program participation fine of $750 and successfully complete all requirements of the program.

Client Profile and Services

  • Most program participants have multiple felony convictions, including charges that would make them ineligible for participation in any other Drug Court in Georgia. Fulton County’s Drug Court accepts offenders who have had previous weapons offenses, residential burglary charges and other offenses which would result in a defendant being deemed ineligible by most drug courts nationwide.

  • The typical client is: an African-American male who has not completed high school, is unemployed and who has been using crack cocaine for at least ten years.

  • Approximately 30 percent of program participants are either homeless or effectively homeless, meaning that they reside in an environment where they are surrounded by drug use and criminal activity.

  • Women comprise 16 percent of the clients and special programming is offered to them in order to address their unique needs.

  • Dually-diagnosed individuals are served by this program and they comprise more than 18 percent of clients. These are individuals who have some type of cognitive or emotional disorder and are typically thought of as being mentally unstable. They often are barred from Drug Court participation in other jurisdictions.

  • Clients receive cognitive rehabilitation services through Moral Recognation Therapy, (MRT), and a nationally-recognized program that focuses on changing the manner in which participant’s process information so they will make better choices to enable them to become productive, tax-paying citizens. The Matrix Model, an evidenced based treatment modality, is utilized as well.

  • Ancillary services include job skills training, G.E.D. preparation, anger management, culinary classes, HIV/AIDS testing and education, stress management, budgeting and consumer services, job readiness and referral sources; AA/NA participation and groups led by alumni of the program.

Behavioral Health Treatment Court

Mental illness increases the cost of the legal process. Without treatment and supervision some mentally ill defendants cannot be safely released into the community, creating a disproportionate drain on the justice system.

Nationwide, 16 percent of jail detainees are mentally ill. But, at the Fulton County Jail, this figure is 20 to 25 percent, approximately 50 percent above the national average. Currently, one-third of all defendants housed in the Fulton County Jail receive some type of psychotropic medication and more than 75 percent test positive for illegal drugs upon arrival (or refuse to take the test).

These numbers make the Fulton County Jail the largest de facto mental health facility in Georgia with half of the jail’s 2,000-plus detainees receiving some type of mental health services.

To address this large number of detainees who cannot be released because of mental illness, the Superior Court of Fulton County began a pilot Mental Health Court in the last quarter of 2006. Using existing staff and resources, the Court has been able to supervise, on average, 100 mentally ill offenders annually. Collectively, these offenders have been arrested more than 800 times, with one third of them having a criminal history which included spending time in prison. In 2011 the Mental Health Court was renamed the Behavioral Health Treatment Court in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the title “Mental Health”.

Fulton’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court is effective in dealing with the problem of recurring arrests of individuals diagnosed with mental illness, by utilizing community collaborations and partnerships to meet the mental health needs of the participants. The program also assists in reducing the jail population and strengthening our existing Drug Court program by providing additional resources needed by Drug Court participants who have mental illnesses.

In 2008, Fulton County’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD) agreed to provide case management and mental health treatment for 50 defendants under the supervision of Behavioral Health Treatment Court. This partnership allows for an expansion of the Behavioral Health Treatment Court therefore further reducing the costs of recurring arrest of offenders with mental illnesses.

For information on Fulton County’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court please contact: Marla J. Patterson, Mental Health Court Coordinator: 404-612-4922