Problem-Solving Courts: A Closer Look at the 20th Judicial District—Adult Integrated Treatment Court
Problem-Solving Courts exist across most of the counties in Colorado and address a range of specific needs. The 20th Judicial District encompasses Boulder County and offers an Adult Integrated Treatment Court. As the name suggests, the program is designed for offenders who are struggling with issues related to their substance use disorder (i.e., in need of treatment). There is a slightly separate but closely related Family Integrated Treatment Court as well, which operates very similarly while catering to families with Dependency and Neglect proceedings.
The official mission of the program is to integrate substance use disorder treatment, intensive supervision, and substantial judicial oversight to promote public safety and individual responsibility, to reduce crime, and to improve the quality of life for participants and their families. And the stated purpose of the Adult Integrated Treatment Court is to help participants develop the skills necessary to attain long-term sobriety.
The 20th Judicial District’s Adult Integrated Treatment Court is not designed for or limited to a particular criminal offense. Rather, the Court focuses on identifying the specific subset of people who are most likely to benefit from participation in the program and reduce the likelihood of their continued involvement with the judicial system. The screening process looks for individuals who meet certain criteria, such as being high risk and high needs with a prior lack of success in the judicial system. This can include repeat offenders, but also individuals facing things like probation revocation. The specific criminal charges do not matter, as the program seeks to address any underlying needs resulting from a diagnosed substance use disorder that have strongly contributed to the lack of previous progress or success (regardless of what or where those prior situations were). There are a few types of offenses that are disqualifying from the Adult Integrated Treatment Court due to community safety concerns; however, even then, the District Attorney is always willing to look into whether a particular person could be granted an exception and still participate in the program.
As with all of the Problem-Solving Courts, referrals to the Adult Integrated Treatment Court most often come from the District Attorneys and Public Defenders, but anyone can make a referral for an assessment of eligibility for the program, including probation officers, judges, alternate defense counsel, private attorneys, and even referral from participants themselves. For those that don’t meet the eligibility screening criteria, the Court does its best to refer them to other programs and community resources that may be able to help. One of the most unique aspects of the Problem-Solving Courts is their ability to build direct connections and involvement with non-judicial community partners through their extensive knowledge of local programs available to help people on wide-ranging social and economic issues in their region.
The Adult Integrated Treatment Court is a voluntary program. Those who are in a position to really seek change for themselves and want to be supported through that process will feel like they have an incredible team of enthusiastic cheerleaders with them every step of the way. The more reluctant participants, however, are also positively impacted by the program and find the treatment team’s support and connection to resources to be highly beneficial.
The program strives to start working with eligible people as quickly as possible once they have been identified, striking while the iron of interest is hot. The program has the capacity to take new entries without a waitlist. Given the existing levels community support, the program anticipates expanding to accommodate additional participants should concerns about program capacity limitations arise in the future. The Adult Integrated Treatment Court has longstanding partnerships with the Boulder County District Attorney and Public Defenders offices in support of the program, as well as with the overseeing judges in the 20th Judicial District. Additionally, the Boulder County Commissioners have been a large source of support since the beginning stages of the program. Their support enables the Adult Integrated Treatment Court to provide many unique resources to participants that further distinguishes the program from other courts. These connections increase the chances at successful rehabilitation for both the offender and the community. And this community support ensures that the program is robust and sustainable, as well as well-funded.
Participating in the Adult Integrated Treatment Court, like all the Problem-Solving Courts, is not a light undertaking. Especially during the early phases, clients will be required to put forth significant time to comply with the program and help stabilize immediate barriers that may limit their ability to engage with treatment. The average length of time in the program is generally eighteen to twenty-four months, although potentially could be completed in as few as fifteen months. Recovery is a not a perfect process and sometimes there will be slipups or setbacks; a shorter time in the program doesn’t account for these very human elements—something the Adult Integrated Treatment Court continually acknowledges within its design. The Court will keep people in the program as long as needed, so long as they are committed to the program and working with the treatment team.
Starting the program is the hardest part. The first two phases are when clients are new to recovery and the treatment team doesn’t have huge expectations of abstinence during this period but does expect participants to show up to the meetings. And there are a lot of meetings, on top of requirements for full-time work or school.
While all program components are adjusted to meet an individual’s specific situation and needs, generally there will be an initial treatment plan with three treatment meetings per week (two group and one individual), as well as a weekly meeting with the probation officer and multiple UAs required each week. Every two weeks there will be a staffing meeting with the entire treatment team to discuss the participant’s strengths and barriers, and to consider what is currently happening (or not happening) on the client’s journey towards recovery. These staffing meetings are immediately followed by the supervisory judge meeting with the client in court. At these review hearings, the judge wants to build a positive relationship and connection with the program participant and have an authentic and honest conversation about what is going well and what isn’t. This intentional and direct rapport building between the judge and the client is something that is truly not seen outside of the Problem-Solving Court programs—and the evidence for the programs continues to show this relationship as a significant factor that contributes towards participant success.
There is also a requirement that clients participate in a weekly scheduled pro-social community support group outside of the judicial system. While traditionally these were often things like AA groups, it could be just about anything that appeals to the participant as long as it meets some other criteria such as being regularly scheduled, at least one weekly meeting, and focused on building a positive recovery-oriented community. Consistently attending a local church service or yoga classes can both qualify, and the treatment team will work together to find scheduled activities that are a good fit for the individual client.
While the first few weeks (or months) can be overwhelming, the purpose is for participants to have high accountability as well as incentives and sanctions applied quickly in response to particular behaviors. Incentives can include things like small gift cards of the client’s choice to stores, movies tickets, or rec center passes. For negative behavior, the treatment team looks at what is driving the negative conduct and constantly evaluates treatment and response to meet the client’s evolving needs. These types of responses are also discussed at the staffing meetings on how best to tailor them to each individual’s circumstances in a unique or meaningful way.
In later phases of the program, participants are encouraged to move further away from the judicial system and more into the pro-social community. By phase five, clients are likely only having once-monthly review meetings.
Beyond the time commitment, honesty is a huge cornerstone of recovery and the Adult Integrated Treatment Court. Setbacks are ok—and are even expected—but facing them head on with a supportive team behind you is where the true benefits of the program shine through.
The current program coordinator, Christina Orlowski, is an enthusiastic and dedicated champion of the Adult Integrated Treatment Court. She likes to run a one-stop-shop to ensure that all treatment team members are coordinating together in a genuinely non-adversarial and multidisciplinary approach to helping each client. Given the inherently adversarial nature of the legal system, such cooperative methodology is unique and can even seem a bit revolutionary. But it’s also a push towards efficiency, looking to minimize duplicate requirements from different involved parties, and prioritizing what is truly important in each individual case for the best outcome for the program participants.
Measuring success of the Adult Integrated Treatment Court can be a challenging endeavor. Because of the selection process specifically targeting those who have not had prior success in the judicial system, all of the program participants have already failed in other parts of the judicial system. Many have previously been to prison or community corrections, and most are looking at additional community corrections or prison sentences should they not enter into the Problem-Solving Court program. While the graduation rate from the 20th Judicial District’s Adult Integrated Treatment Court is only around 40 percent, it is important to remember that the participants have already failed in other parts of the system before coming into the program and their counterparts are facing significantly below-average success rates as a group.
Furthermore, graduation from the program alone is not the only measure of success that matters. For example, the Adult Integrated Treatment Court may have prevented someone from overdosing in the future, or being a part of the program may have made it easier for the participant to seek out treatment or other help the next time they’re in a bad place. Maybe the program just helped a client not pick up future felony charges. The true goal behind the program is for the participants to leave the program in a better state than when they entered. But this is something that will inherently look different for each participant and can only be defined on an individual basis.
Per participant, the Adult Integrated Treatment Court is costly compared to the general population. But the individuals taking part in this program are not the general population, as they were already a higher-cost subset that put much greater demands on the judicial system. For this particular demographic, the Adult Integrated Treatment Court is both more effective and less costly than the available alternatives—like incarceration within the Department of Corrections. And the focus of the program is unequivocally on helping people.
The Adult Integrated Treatment Court has highly trained professionals that serve on the treatment teams and strive to come up with new and creative ways to respond to people on an individual basis. The desire to support participants in all areas of their lives is clear, as well as facilitating connections to other community supports and resources that will be available after a participant’s time with the Problem-Solving Court has concluded. In addition to providing very targeted treatment and accountability, the Adult Integrated Treatment Court wants to help guide people into better life situations that will continue for many years to come.
The program coordinator Christina Orlowski likened the work of the Boulder County Adult Integrated Treatment Court to planting seeds in a garden. Seeds of support. Seeds of hope. Seeds of change. And even if a particular seed did not germinate and blossom during someone’s time in the program, it still has been planted and may yet find its way to the surface. As noted above, success can look very different to different people, and the Adult Integrated Treatment Court strives to help people in whatever ways it can, whether that be successfully completing a full addiction rehab program or just getting connected to some hands-on help formatting a resume and applying for jobs.
If you would like more information about the 20th Judicial District’s Adult Integrated Treatment Court, please reach out to the program coordinator Christina Orlowski at email@example.com. Additional information about the program is available at https://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/District/Custom.cfm?District_ID=20&Page_ID=515 and information about Problem-Solving Courts across the State is available on the Colorado Judicial Branch website at https://www.courts.state.co.us/Administration/Unit.cfm?Unit=prbsolcrt. General inquiries can also be directed to the Statewide Problem-Solving Court Coordinator team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Part 1 of this series looking at the Colorado Problem-Solving Courts at a state-wide level can be found at: https://www.the1891-cwba.org/post/problem-solving-courts-in-colorado-an-introduction-and-overview-part-1.  The Adult Integrated Treatment Court Participant Handbook is available on the Colorado Judicial Branch website at:https://www.courts.state.co.us/userfiles/file/Court_Probation/20th_Judicial_District/AITC%20Handbook92019.pdf.  See SAMSHA 2018 – Applying RNR Across the Criminal Justice System (has a helpful ‘case study’ walkthrough) at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdW72QhbOG4; see also Public Safety Canada 2007 – Overview of Risk-Need Responsivity at: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/rsk-nd-rspnsvty/index-en.aspx.
Marty Whalen Brown is a Staff Adjudicator at the Office of Appeals in the Colorado Department of Human Services. She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Colorado Law School and clerked at the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge under the Colorado Supreme Court after graduating.