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Browse questions and answers below on topics affecting treatment courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.


In March 2020, Carolyn Hardin, chief of training and research for NADCP, and Nora Sydow, principal court management consultant for the National Center for State Courts, presented a webinar to discuss treatment courts and COVID-19. Watch the webinar.

Below, NADCP staff summarize the webinar and answer follow-up questions from webinar participants on topics ranging from the legal implications of shelter-in-place orders to best practices for providing treatment, including remote treatment, while these orders are in place.

Shelter-in-place orders are designed to protect the public from the contagious and potentially deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Treatment courts that issue directives requiring participants to participate in program activities, such as appearing in court, appearing at the probation office, or reporting to a drug testing laboratory, in contradiction of emergency directives issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local and governmental agencies, face potential legal liability.

Criminal justice agencies that have denied medical treatment have been found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Eighth Amendment and due process protections. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976) in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that “Denial of medical care may result in physical torture or lingering death or in less serious cases, needless pain and suffering for no penological purpose.” See also Pesce v. Coppinger, 2018 U.S. Dist. Lexis 199547 (D. Mass. Nov. 26, 2018), where the federal court in Massachusetts ruled that a jail’s policy to deny methadone access is sufficient to establish deliberate indifference to a sufficiently serious medical condition and violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Supreme court rules in many states have either closed or severely restricted court business. Judges violating these rules could face disciplinary actions.

Ordering treatment court participants to engage in activities that are prohibited by COVID-19 governmental mandates is likely to be seen as denying medical treatment, under the reasoning in the above cases.

In summary, treatment courts should follow the recommendations of the CDC and state and local governmental directives. We are not epidemiological professionals. During these uncertain times, treatment court professionals should not be placing participants, team members, and their families at risk of contracting COVID-19. Treatment courts that fail to follow these guidelines do so at their own peril.

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