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Drug Courts

Special Feature
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Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target adults charged with or convicted of a crime, youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems.

Drug court participants who successfully complete the program can have their underlying criminal offenses dismissed or expunged. However, if a participant fails to complete the program, their case is processed through the traditional justice system.

There are more than 3,500 drug courts across the United States, about half of which are adult treatment courts. Juvenile drug treatment courts offer a similar approach but are specific to the needs of youth. Family drug courts serve children, parents, and families involved in the child welfare system due to parental substance use as a contributing factor to child abuse or neglect.

Although they vary in target populations and resources, drug court programs are usually managed by a multidisciplinary team. This team may include judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community corrections officers, social workers, and treatment service professionals.

Research from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that drug courts reduce recidivism and drug use among participants. According to NIJ’s Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation, drug court participants were less likely than a comparison group (40 percent vs. 53 percent) to report committing crimes in the year prior to being interviewed for the study. Drug court participants were also significantly less likely than the comparison group (56 percent vs. 76 percent) to report using any drugs in the prior year.

Through the Adult Drug Court Grant Program, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) provides financial and technical assistance to implement or enhance the operations of drug courts. Additionally, BJA’s Veterans Treatment Court Grant Program provides veterans treatment courts and criminal justice professionals with the resources necessary to reduce recidivism and increase veterans’ access to critical treatment and recovery support services.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines provide evidence-based practices to help juvenile drug treatment court staff improve outcomes for the youth they serve. A tip sheet provides practical steps to implement the guidelines.

With support from BJA, the National Drug Court Resource Center (NDCRC) provides resources for court professionals to expand and enhance drug court operations as well as collect and analyze program data. NDCRC also offers an interactive map that provides data on treatment courts by court type and state or county.

Visit the following pages for additional information produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal sources:

Date Modified: April 25, 2022
Date Created: August 11, 2020