At a recent meeting of the Atlanta Bar’s Family Section, Georgia Lord heard Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley praise the work done by Cobb’s Accountability Court programs. These programs are designed to meet the needs of criminal defendants who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction or mental illness. Judge Staley explained that these Accountability Court programs are intended to address the problems underlying a defendant’s criminal actions. She believes such programs are far more effective than traditional criminal sentencing: she gave examples of how Accountability Courts can make a dramatic difference in both the defendants’ lives and the lives of those around them.
Traditionally, a court sentencing a defendant accused of theft would simply decide whether the defendant should be locked up, put on probation, or released. Incarceration is expensive, both for the community and for the defendant. Past experience teaches that a defendant who steals to fund a drug habit will probably keep stealing unless he or she either stays locked up or breaks the drug habit. Accountability Courts are designed to help defendants change the condition that is prompting them to commit crimes. Cobb’s Accountability Courts include a Drug Treatment Court for defendants addicted to drugs or alcohol; a Mental Health Court for defendants with severe and persistent mental health issues; and a Veterans Court, for defendants who are honorably discharged veterans with mental health issues.
Other metro counties have similar accountability courts, and their generally positive impact is becoming increasingly recognized. Governor Nathan Deal has become an enthusiastic supporter of Accountability Courts and, with his support, Georgia now offers financial incentives to counties that use such courts.