As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many treatment courts shifted to offering teleservices. We sought to examine the barriers that clients faced when transitioning to virtual court and treatment, and how this transition impacted their perceptions of the treatment court experience.
The National Center for State Courts administered an online survey between January 1, 2021, and July 31, 2021, deployed to state and local court administrators, which resulted in 1356 unique client responses from 121 courts. The survey measured attitudes about the treatment court process, including interactions with the judge, the behavioral health treatment staff, and treatment groups, as well as barriers to virtual and in-person court. We hypothesized that clients with fewer technological barriers to virtual service, who shifted to virtual court or treatment, would report more positive attitudes to this service delivery.
Clients felt more comfortable participating in virtual court sessions than in-person sessions but were less likely to feel like the judge was familiar with their case during virtual court sessions. From the treatment perspective, clients felt more connected with other group members and reported greater benefit from treatment staff when treatment services were delivered in-person, but clients felt less anxious when treatment groups were virtual.
Even though virtual experiences were more comfortable than in-person experiences for clients, the results are nuanced and show preference for some in-person connections as they transitioned to virtual connections. Future research should examine how to improve client connections with staff/group members during virtual court or treatment sessions, particularly as courts and treatment providers are likely to continue some services virtually into the future.