Drug Courts Emphasize Substance Abuse Treatment

There are more than 2,600 drug courts across the United States, of which half are adult treatment drug courts.

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. Although drug courts vary in target population and resources, programs
are generally managed by a multidisciplinary team including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community corrections, social workers and treatment service professionals. Support from stakeholders representing law enforcement, the family and the community is encouraged through participation in hearings, programming and events like graduation.

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. Program goals include: helping the parent to become emotionally, financially and personally self-sufficient; promoting the development of parenting and coping skills adequate for serving as an effective parent on a day-to-day basis; and providing services to their children.

Other types of drug courts have emerged to address issues specific to unique populations including tribal, driving while intoxicated (DWI), campus, reentry, veterans and mental health courts.

–U.S. Department of Justice


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