Winter Highlights 2023

Impact offers this newsletter as a way to share the incredible work its partners are engaged in and to demonstrate how Impact might support your organization in reaching its goals.

Spotlight: Specialty Courts

Specialty Courts are problem-solving court strategies designed to address the root causes of criminal activity by coordinating efforts of the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, treatment, mental health, social services, and child protection services. (Nevada Judiciary)

These programs offer an exit strategy for people who are stuck on the merry-go-round of criminal involvement due to underlying behavioral health concerns (mental health or substance use disorder). The ultimate goal is to treat the individual's behavioral health conditions (while they are under close supervision and monitoring) so that they might be less likely to engage in criminal activities in the future.

There are a wide range of specialty courts. Adult drug courts focus on felony-level offenders who have a diagnosed substance use disorder. Family treatment courts focus on parents who have abused or neglected their children because of their substance use disorders. There are also juvenile treatment courts, mental health courts, and DUI courts.

When specialty courts work well, the savings to individuals and communities is staggering:

A comprehensive drug court system typically costs between $2,500 - $4,000 annually for each offender, compared to $20,000 - $50,000 per person per year to incarcerate a drug-using offender. (Stanford)

Drug courts improve people’s lives in a variety of ways. They have been shown to increase rates of employment, help people obtain stable living arrangements, improve mental and physical health, and enhance interpersonal relationships. (Partnership to End Addiction)

The average effect of participation is analogous to a drop in recidivism from 50% to 38%; and, these effects last up to three years. (Mitchell, et al)

The key to these kinds of results is, of course, maximum effectiveness. Specialty courts are run by multi-disciplinary teams (prosecution, defense, treatment, social workers) under the direction of a judge. Team members are expected to attend regular trainings specific to specialty courts, such as the annual All Rise convention. Furthermore, each type of specialty court is operated with strict adherence to a set of research-based best practices. Adult drug courts, for example, follow the Best Practice Standards recommended by SAMHSA. DUI courts follow the 10 Guiding Principles for DWI Courts.

Impact's principal, Margo Teague, spent 15 years working as a paralegal for criminal and family law firms while completing her education. This training and experience positioned her to merge the worlds of criminal justice, family law, and social science. Today, Impact is fortunate to work with several specialty courts and one pre-trial services program throughout the State of Nevada.

Impact evaluates each specialty court's processes (are they following their respective best practice standards?), outcomes (what are their graduation rates?), and long-term impacts (how many participants are re-arrested?). Quality improvement plans are generated annually that provide the courts with specific goals, responsible entities, and timeframes for completion. These findings help inform future grant proposals and then, to complete the circle, grant-related goals and objectives are analyzed and reported on. Read more about how this is accomplished in the Nerd Corner below.

"Our work with Margo helps us understand the impact of our program and allows us to see where we can make improvements. She provides us with guidance to bring our practices into closer alignment with best practice standards, which increases the chances that our Participants achieve and maintain sobriety and mental wellness and become healthier, more productive members of our community. Margo's ability to effectively use graphic representations of complex systems is particularly helpful.

Michelle Rodriguez, Family Court Master

4th Judicial District Court, Dept. II

Elko County, NV

Nerd Corner: Triangulating Data

Impact strives to emphasize the SCIENCE in the social sciences. This section is devoted to a brief overview of methods and theories Impact utilizes from the fields of Anthropology and Evaluation to support its partners.

Specialty Courts offer a fantastic example to explore data triangulation. The following graphic depicts the sources of data that are used to analyze the processes, short-term outcomes, and long-term outcomes of a specialty court:

Triangulation is the process of sifting through these various data sources looking for connections to help us better understand the complexities of a given situation. For example, if a specialty court's drug testing results show a spike in methamphetamine use, Impact will look to other data sources to help explain what might be happening. Did the specialty court change its testing protocols? Have law enforcement officers on the team identified new methamphetamine usage patterns throughout the community? Does the treatment provider have any insight as to why more Participants might be using methamphetamines?

Finally, many sub-questions must be answered within each of these categories. For example, are treatment providers adequately licensed and certified? Are evidence-based programs being monitored? Are there any common points in the process where Participants tend to drop out of the program? All of these factors taken together impact the specialty court's ultimate goals: Participant sobriety, graduation, and lower recidivism rates in the future.

Evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of complex systems (i.e., specialty courts) that are embedded within complex systems (i.e., criminal justice systems) that are influenced by complex systems (i.e., local and federal political structures and funding streams) and community trends (i.e., substance misuse patterns) can be daunting. However, when a specialty court is reacting nimbly to changing conditions, adhering to its core values, and producing successful outcomes the impacts on individuals, families, and communities is a beautiful thing!

If you are interested in finding out how Impact can help your organization meet its goals, contact Margo at or call (775) 397-0785

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