What Has The Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) Been Up To, And Where Do Specialty Courts Go From Here?
Written by: Christopher Burnett, Executive Director, Criminal Justice Division Office of the Governor; Contact: 512-463-1919
In 2012, Governor Perry created CJAC by executive order to examine aspects of Texas specialty courts (drug courts, veterans’ courts, family drug courts, etc.) Over the last year, CJAC volunteers have spent countless hours looking at questions of evidence-based best practices, oversight, protection of participants’ rights, the role of court team members, and the need for solid data to measure specialty court efficacy. During this legislative session, the results of CJAC’s work will be presented through a bill authored by Senator Joan Huffman.
The bill’s main purposes will be to consolidate the majority of existing specialty court statutes in one place, clarify the requirements that these courts report their existence to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD), further define the role of court team members, develop outcome- and evidence-based best practices to serve as guidance for courts, and require the collection of minimal but standardized performance data.
Specialty courts only work when judges and other team members have the maximum flexibility to tailor their particular court to fit local needs and resources. A cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, governed-from-Austin model of how specialty courts should operate simply won’t work. The original authors of the various specialty court statutes understood this and so do the members of CJAC.
Over the last ten years, the number of specialty courts in Texas grew from nine to around 140. This rapid growth and the ability to gather meaningful data have been difficult to track. Legislators, county judges, county commissioners, and all involved need to see if these courts continue to do what they were designed to do: keep people from unnecessarily going deeper into the criminal justice system; restore broken lives; and free up scare space in county jails and state prisons for those truly requiring incarceration. CJD believes the proposed bill will help accomplish those goals.
CJD, the major source of legislatively-mandated grant funds for specialty courts, has been collecting performance data from CJD-funded programs and facilitating the sharing of resources and information at the state level among the specialty courts – while also providing administrative support to CJAC’s efforts. CJD is a policy- and grant-making agency and not made up of judges or substance abuse treatment experts. Because of that, CJD sees the next step in specialty court evolution as being the transfer of CJD’s limited oversight of and data collection responsibilities for these courts to another state agency. The where and when will be determined by the Texas Legislature. CJD also believes that the gathering of more concrete data from all specialty courts – not just those funded through CJD – will allow the Legislature to look at how specialty
courts are funded and perhaps implement a more stable method of finance in the future.