New Directions: More Than a Decade of Effective Treatment Interventions Nears Its End

Terrence D. Walton, Treatment Program Director

In 2000, PSA launched the New Directions Intensive Treatment and Supervision Program (New Directions) as an alternative to Drug Court for defendants with more extensive criminal histories and more advanced substance involvement. Today, such a defendant population is characterized as higher risk and higher need. Since its inception, New Directions staff members have treated and supervised hundreds of these defendants successively. Earlier this year, PSA announced that after over thirteen years of effective intervention, we would cease offering New Directions as a PSA release option as of February 1, 2013. This change will better achieve PSA’s treatment-related strategic objectives and is consistent with PSA’s commitment to adopting evidence-based treatment practices.

Agencies rarely end successful programs unless compelled to do so by lack of funding, diminished relevance, or other insurmountable threats to the program’s survival. None of these challenges exists and yet later this year New Directions will close its doors. There is no doubt that the defendant population for which New Directions was conceived continues to exist. However, PSA executives and Treatment Program leaders have determined that the higher risk, higher need population slated for New Directions will be handled better in a program with centralized and closer judicial oversight, swifter and more certain responses to infractions, and a more robust array of incentives and sanctions to shape participant behavior. The newly enhanced Superior Court Drug Court has been redesigned to better meet the needs and minimize the risks associated with this population.

PSA expects that the discontinuation of New Directions will result in more defendants being placed in the evidence-based Drug Court Program. Accordingly, all resources now dedicated to New Directions are being reallocated to Drug Court.

Drug Court is a model supported by extensive national research. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), “In the twenty years since the first Drug Court was founded, there has been more research published on the effects of Drug Courts than on virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. The scientific community has put Drug Courts under a microscope and concluded that Drug Courts work.” When servicing higher risk, higher need participants, “Drug Courts significantly reduce drug use and crime and are more cost-effective than any other proven criminal justice strategy.” (See for research details). Through its internal analysis, PSA has found that Pretrial Services Officers are more successful in being able to respond consistently to defendant behavior in Drug Court than in New Directions. As compared to New Directions, Drug Court participants have significantly higher successful completion rates. Also, PSA defendant focus groups have shown reliably that interaction between the Drug Court judge and the participants is integral to their success.

Today’s Drug Court is more prepared than ever to become the preferred option for many felony-charged defendants who might otherwise have been placed in New Directions. The recent expanded use of Amended Sentencing Agreements that permits some Drug Court felony defendants to be convicted and sentenced as misdemeanants should be of particular benefit. The process of discontinuing New Directions will complete when the last of the current New Directions participants leaves the program. While ending New Directions has been long contemplated, beginning this process in February has led to healthy dose of nostalgia for all involved. However, PSA is enthusiastic about this transition.