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Drug Courts

A drug court is a specialized or problem-solving court-based program that targets criminal offenders and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug addiction and dependency problems (Drug Courts, National Institute of Justice, Retrieved March 2014).


According to Drug Courts (Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2013):

  • Adult drug courts employ a program designed to reduce drug use relapse and criminal recidivism among defendants and offenders through risk and needs assessment, judicial interaction, monitoring and supervision, graduated sanctions and incentives, treatment and various rehabilitation services.
  • Juvenile drug courts apply a similar program model that is tailored to the needs of juvenile offenders. These programs provide youth and their families with counseling, education and other services to: promote immediate intervention, treatment and structure; improve level of functioning; address problems that may contribute to drug use; build skills that increase their ability to lead drug-and crime-free lives; strengthen the family's capacity to offer structure and guidance; and promote accountability for all involved.
  • Family drug courts emphasize treatment for parents with substance use disorders to aid in the reunification and stabilization of families affected by parental drug use. These programs apply the adult drug court model to cases entering the child welfare system that include allegations of child abuse or neglect in which substance abuse is identified as a contributing factor.
Compared to traditional criminal justice system processing, treatment and other investment costs averaged $1,392 lower per drug court participant. Reduced recidivism and other long-term program outcomes resulted in public savings of $6,744 on average per participant (or $12,218 if victimization costs are included) (Impact of a Mature Drug Court Over 10 Years of Operation: Recidivism and Costs, National Institute of Justice-Sponsored, 2007).

Although general research findings are that drug courts can reduce recidivism and promote other positive outcomes such as cost savings, several factors affect a drug court program's success:
  • Proper assessment and treatment.
  • The role assumed by the judge and the nature of offender interactions with the judge.
  • Other variable influences such as drug use trends, staff turnover and resource allocation.
See "Do Drug Courts Work? Findings From Drug Court Research" (National Institute of Justice, Retrieved March 2014) to learn more.

This topical resource on Drug Courts contains the following information:

Facts and Figures – Includes the latest information and statistics.
Legislation – A sample of links to online Federal and State legislation and testimony.
Publications – A sample of available resources.
Programs – Examples of State and local programs and initiatives available online.
Training and Technical Assistance – A sample of training and technical assistance opportunities available through nationally recognized agencies and associations.
Grants and Funding – Links to Federal funding opportunities.
Related Resources – Examples of nationally recognized agencies and organizations that provide services or information.