Advice for drug courts wanting to track their graduates post-commencement

Like many courts that are funded by federal grants, we committed to following our graduates for up to three years post-graduation by administering telephonic check-ins at several timed intervals. And, like many of you, I found this to be a daunting task. In spite of the significant gains our participants made while in drug court, I found that many of them remain somewhat transitory after graduation.
To remedy this, our court started a Recovery Management Group. The group is not a therapy group but rather a “connection” group that meets twice per month. As the coordinator, I facilitate the group by opening the space for the meeting and providing a topic of discussion. It may be that one of the graduates lost a job or is looking for a new place to live. They can communicate these things to their peers and often, get great advice. Overall, I have found that the graduates are much better at tracking one another and keeping in touch. If I cannot find someone, chances are, they know how to find them. Then, I get to see their face and have an in-person experience with them.
We incorporated Recovery Management into the last phase of the drug court program. That gives participants a chance to acclimate to the group and its members before graduation. Most of them really enjoy the get-togethers, and by the time they graduate, it’s a regular part of their schedule.
As part of the group, I’ll regularly administer a Recovery Maintenance Check-In survey. The survey is designed to check on the progress of the graduate and solicit information that may give insight into their lifestyle, their vulnerabilities, and successes. And, it can help to identify potential triggers that may cause a relapse.
I find that many of the graduates I interview have at least one struggle to address. Because of our group, I can act as a linkage manager and can get them into services that may help with their stability and keep them in recovery.
Our Recovery Management Group takes on all shapes for our court. I have been able to utilize the expertise and experiences of our participants to address the public in forums and community discussions. Additionally, our graduates and group members make great peer support specialists. It’s helpful to invite new drug court participants into the Recovery Management Group to talk about the struggles and barriers that face new participants. They’re very active in convincing new participants in the court that they’ll get through it and they share how to navigate the first few months successfully. It really seems to help when a peer is giving the advice.
Often, the group will break from our regular meeting space and meet at a coffee shop, or take a walk together. We’ll do volunteer work in the community and participate in discussions. It’s a meaningful experience, and overall, we’ve seen our recidivism rates decrease while seeing participation increase. And for the participants that experience a relapse, we can place them into temporary services until they’re stable, and then utilize the group to help address the triggers that initiated the relapse. Our group has become a community—it is a loyal friend; a place to call home in a time of need; a foundation for a renewed life ahead.
Shelley Thomson, Drug Court Coordinator
SOAR Court, Billings, Montana

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