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Essential and supplementary preconditions for the interaction of justice and drug treatment services (JUSTHULP)

Research project DR/36 (Research action DR)


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Description :

Theme and objective

Based on the assumption that the criminal justice system cannot offer an adequate answer to the drug phenomenon, the use of diversion for drug dependent offenders from the traditional procedure (judicial alternatives and sanctions) has been stimulated in most Western European countries. For several decades, treatment and justice interventions are meeting each other at different levels of the criminal justice system. Within this context the criminal justice system and the treatment services are working ideally as two partners, equivalent to one another. Starting from specific needs and experiences, these collaboration initiatives have often been developing organically. Notwithstanding real and increasing collaboration initiatives, an area of tension remains and some bottlenecks can be witnessed, because of differences in culture and approach. Nevertheless it is possible to create solid collaborative initiatives. That is proven by the existence of the pilot-project ‘Proefzorg’ (Ghent). It aims to divert drug users, who have confessed to committing (victim-less) offences stemming from addiction problems, to treatment. The legal basis of this alternative is based on the principle of discretionary powers of the prosecutor. The evaluation of the ‘Proefzorgproject’ found that the majority of the involved actors (police, judicial authorities and treatment services) were pleased with their role and had a positive attitude towards the structure of the project. This project and its evaluation focussed on the context of Ghent. If this project is to be extended elsewhere, attention needs to be directed towards “implementation-integrity”.

This research aims to identify the essential preconditions and critical success factors for the interaction between justice and drug treatment services, with the aim of implementing and optimising these interactions. Moreover, the research also aims to develop a guide for the actors concerned (the police and judicial authorities, the treatment sector), including the organisational preconditions for the implementation and the follow-up of projects within the framework of a ‘conditional dismissal’ (based on the principle of discretionary powers of the prosecutor).

Research design

1. Analysing the (inter)national literature to identify the possibilities and obstacles in the cooperation between the criminal justice system and treatment services. This literature study will focus upon evaluation studies concerning the cooperation between justice and drug treatment services.

2. Organising a focus group, adding to the evaluation of the ‘Proefzorg-project’ (De Ruyver, B., Colman, C., De Wree, E., Vander Laenen, F., Reynders, D., Van Liempt, A. en De Pauw, W., Een brug tussen justitie en de drughulpverlening. Een evaluatie van het project, (A bridge between justice and drug treatment services. An evaluation of the proefzorg project. Antwerpen, Maklu, 2008, 199p). In this previous evaluation, all actors involved in the project (police, justice, treatment services and drug users) were interviewed. Questions focused on the advantages of this interaction, but also on the difficulties. This focus group will be organised with a view to further exploring critical (legal, practical and psychosocial) success factors for police/judicial actors and treatment services.

3. Feasibility study. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews will be conducted with policemen, policymakers, prosecutors and (drug) treatment actors (in four research locations). The elements that have been identified as critical success factors in the pilot project ‘Proefzorg’ (standardized feedback, judicial case manager, communication/dispatching services etc.+ additional elements identified in the focus group –cfr second phase) will be presented to these actors who will evaluate their feasibility. These interviews will be complemented by interviews with drug users who are attending a judicial alternative. Drug users will be interviewed about the possible implementation of the (substantive elements of) ‘Proefzorg’.
Moreover, the research results will be tested (in practice) using an additional focus group in each research location.

4. Developing guidance. The results of the different research phases will be used to develop a guide, comprising the essential preconditions for the establishment of interactions between the criminal justice system and drug treatment services (after referral by the prosecutor). This guide will be developed in such a way that different regions (with regard to the presence of treatment services) can use it to develop cooperation. The preconditions that will be discussed in this guide refer to all actors involved – police, criminal justice and treatment services.

5. The research will be complemented with a quantitative component. Moreover a database and codebook will be developed. Variables envisaged relate to the profile of the clients, their previous arrest and convictions for drug offences, the treatment trajectory, new (drug) offences committed during treatment. Based on the characteristics which are defined, a code book will be developed. This code book allows for a simple registration by the competent services. The monitoring system will be used to follow the trajectory of the accused/client and criminal behavior during the treatment phase.


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