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Drug Courts

Special Feature
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Overview

Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems. These programs emerged during the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to a growing number of drug offender arrests and prosecutions that overwhelmed the capacity of courts to process such cases.

Today, there are more than 3,000 drug courts across the United States, half of which are adult treatment drug courts.

Adult drug courts employ a program designed to reduce drug use relapse and criminal recidivism among defendants and offenders through a variety of services. These services include 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 youth with substance use disorders. A third form of drug courts, 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.

Studies have shown drug courts to be successful in diverting drug-addicted individuals away from incarceration and reducing their risk of recidivism. According to the Multi-site Adult Drug Court Evaluation from the National Institute of Justice, drug court participants reported less criminal activity and less drug use than comparison groups.

In FY 2020, the Office of Justice Programs awarded more than $96 million to fund specialized drug courts and veterans treatment courts. Awards were made through programs such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Adult Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Family Drug Court Program and Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program.

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