Sam Houston State to Study Specialty Courts

Nueces County offers a court specializing in cases involving veterans.
Nueces County offers a court specializing in cases involving veterans.

Sam Houston State University will evaluate the effectiveness of specialty courts in Nueces County, which were launched over the last two years to increase accountability and better coordinate treatment for specialized offenders, such as veterans and people with mental illness.

Dr. Gaylene Armstrong
Dr. Gaylene Armstrong
“Specialty courts, such as drug courts, have shown a reduction in drug use and in future criminal behavior by offenders,” said Dr. Gaylene Armstrong, Director of Criminal Justice and Criminology Graduate Programs at the College of Criminal Justice. “Adapting this model to other important populations, such as veterans and those with mental illness, hold equally important promise.”

Nueces County, which is located in the Corpus Christi area, offers specialty courts for veterans, those with mental illness, drug offenders, domestic violence cases and reentry. Specialty courts are designed to address underlying problems that led to criminal behavior through a team of court and treatment professionals.

Drunken driving case illustrated by a drink, keys and gavel.
Nueces Count has a drunk driving court.
The study, funded by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Assistance Division, will evaluate the courts based on the best practices available from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The evaluation will examine offender compliance, assessment tools, qualifications for the program and program services. The study also will provide recommendations on improvements to programs, evaluations or policies of the specialty courts.

“We want to see the impact the courts are having on probationer compliance to the conditions of probation and recidivism rates,” said Dr. Armstrong.

Dr. Armstrong’s study will parallel a state study on specialty courts by the Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which is expected to be presented to the Texas Legislature this year. Over the last 10 years, the number of specialty courts has grown from nine to 140 across Texas. The state study will examine evidence based best practices, oversight, protection of participants’ right, the role of court team members, and the need for solid data to measure court efficacy.

Man in shadows sitting on a bench looking desperate.
Many courts in Nueces County deal with specialized offenders and are patterned after the success of drug courts.
Dr. Armstrong’s study will include an analysis of program documents and reports, interviews with judges, program staff and treatment providers, and surveys of program participants. The final report will be delivered by Aug. 1.

Assisting with the study will be Dr. Todd Armstrong and graduate students Cassandra Atkin-Plunk and Nancy Johnson.

Member of The Texas State University System