Court Ordered Rehab: Everything To Know

Last Updated: June 3, 2020

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

Court-ordered rehab is something the defendant of a drug-related crime might have to do in lieu of going to jail. If the judge and the prosecution believe that a defendant would benefit from rehab, they would rather try to help that person than put them in jail.

What Is Court-Ordered Rehab?

Court-ordered rehab, as the name implies, is a mandatory rehabilitation from a drug or alcohol addiction as ordered by a judge as part of a court ruling. It is usually in lieu of a prison term which is a punishment that might not have matched the nature of the crime. It’s a common occurrence for law-breakers who were under the influence of a substance, be it illicit or legal, when they committed a crime to be ordered to participate in a compulsory rehabilitation program.

Such people are addicted to alcohol or other drugs which impair their judgment and lead them to commit a relatively minor crime. At other times, it’s the driving force behind a crime as an offender may steal or partake in some illegal activity just in order to acquire some money to feed the addiction.

People who are ordered to go through court-ordered drug treatment are mostly just regular people. If the crime committed is not violent in nature, the judge has an option of ordering a court-mandated drug program instead of prosecution or incarceration.

The main aims as far as the law is concerned is the complete rehabilitation of the offender and to ensure that the rehabilitated individual does not graduate into even more serious crimes. So a desire for success is very high.

It makes sense to achieve this end with the littlest amount of stress possible, both to the government and the defendant. This is why it is sensible to look before leaping to just any court appointed rehab center available. There is more to it than meets the eye as all rehab centers are not equal or equally suited to everyone.

Emergency Court-Ordered Drug Rehab

An emergency court order requires a screening investigation, in which both police officers and addiction professionals take part. The person is taken into custody to determine if they qualify for an emergency order. If they are found unable to control their actions, use drugs every day, are suffering from health problems caused by drug abuse, and behave in ways that threaten the health and safety of those around them, an emergency court order becomes a distinct possibility. A court hearing will be scheduled, at which the addict’s family plead their case. The authorities have the last word.

How to Get Court-Ordered Rehab – Qualifying

Court-ordered rehab is a form of mandatory rehab for drug or alcohol addiction as part of a court ruling. Courts recognize that a prison sentence might not always be the best option. Addiction can impair judgment and lead one to commit a relatively minor crime. It can be the driving force behind a crime as an offender may steal or commit another illegal act to get money for drugs. If the crime committed is not violent in nature, the judge has an option of ordering a court-mandated drug program instead of prosecution or incarceration. The main aim is the full rehabilitation of the offender to prevent him or her from committing a more serious crime down the line. Court-ordered rehab is a way to achieve this with the least effort and stress possible, both to the government and the defendant.

The court may order rehab instead of jail time if the following criteria are met:

  • The crime was nonviolent
  • The crime committed was a direct or indirect result of dependence on drugs
  • The court believes the person would benefit from drug or alcohol rehab
  • The person qualifies for a probation sentence

Who is Eligible for Treatment instead of Incarceration?

To be eligible for court-ordered rehabilitation, a person would need to meet some requirements. If all of them are met, then the offender should be able to apply for drug treatment instead of going to jail for a minor crime. These conditions are:

  • The person was addicted to some substance or alcohol at the time in which the crime was committed.
  • The crime committed was directly or indirectly as a result of the person’s dependence on drugs or alcohol.
  • The person is of a disposition that will benefit from drug and alcohol treatment.
  • The person qualifies for a probation sentence.

Do I have to pay for rehab if it is court ordered?

Yes, in most cases the defendant must pay for rehab eve in it is court ordered. The defendant also has the right to choose the treatment center, allowing him or her to consider a number of factors, including cost, when deciding where to go for treatment.

When an offender is placed in drug or alcohol treatment, it does not negate a sentence until the treatment has been completed successfully.

Drug Courts

Drug courts are an alternative to conventional criminal courts that are designed to prevent law offenders suffering from addiction from going to prison. These offenders are admitted to addiction treatment programs instead. Since the goal of sentences is primarily rehabilitation and not just punishment, people with substance use disorder will more likely benefit from an addiction treatment program more than a prison term.

Participation in a drug court is not mandatory but to be eligible, the defendant must have pleaded guilty to the crime he/she has been charged with and be willing to go through the court-mandated drug treatment. The offender once checked into rehab, is expected to abide by some or all of the following terms:

  • A sentence of 12 to 24 months.
  • Complete abstinence from the addictive substance.
  • Regular updates with the court-appointed officials.
  • Random drug or alcohol tests.
  • Compulsory participation in court-ordered substance abuse treatments.
  • Community service.

Drug Intervention Programs

There are several programs that have been put in place to assist people addicted to alcohol and drugs to beat the addiction while avoiding all or part of a jail sentence. Depending on the type of crime committed, a specific drug intervention program will be selected for the defendant.

  1. Accelerated Pretrial Rehabilitation Program: The program has strict requirements in order for the defendant to qualify for it such as not having participated in a similar program before or having committed a felony etc. Once the defendant is deemed to have qualified for the program, he/she is released to the Court Support Services Department (CSSD) who are in charge of overseeing the rehabilitation program. The defendant is acquitted of all charges once he/she has successfully completed the program.
  2. Alcohol Education Program: People who have been charged with driving or operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol may be eligible for this program. The court file is sealed if the defendant applies for this program. During the CSSD’s investigation into whether or not a defendant is eligible for this program, an evaluation by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) is also carried out. This evaluation is used to decide if and what type of program the defendant should be in. The options include a 10-week educational program, a 15-week educational program or a treatment program. Once the defendant successfully completes the program, all charges are dropped by the court.
  3. Drug Education and Community Service Program: This program is applicable to people who have been charged with possession of drugs or drug-related paraphernalia. There are conditions that may limit a person’s eligibility to this program such as having twice participated in the program or having participated in a related program before. Investigations into the eligibility of a defendant are similar to that of the Alcohol Education Program and the DMHAS gets involved as well. Their findings and possible previous involvement in the program by the defendant may lead to the defendant being recommended for either a 15-week educational program or a 15-week long substance abuse treatment program. Like other programs, if the defendant successfully completes the program assigned, the charges are dismissed.

Read more about drug intervention programs here.

Who Pays For A Court Ordered Drug/Alcohol Treatment?

The court is never required to pay for a person’s addiction treatment. In most cases the defendant must pay for rehab. The defendant also has the right to choose the treatment center, allowing them to consider a number of factors when deciding where to go for treatment, including cost. This flexibility means the defendant should choose according to specific criteria that will ensure the treatment does not become tiring and tedious. Costs of treatments vary widely, among other factors. If treatment is not affordable, some centers offer sliding payment services or allow clients to pay over a longer period of time. In states where “Casey’s Law” is effective, anyone who petitions for court-mandated rehab must find a way to pay for it. They have to sign a legally binding agreement on the terms of payment. Private drug treatment programs can cost thousands of dollars, but there are many free rehabilitation centers across the US.

Insurance Coverage

Health insurance could help cover rehabilitation. After the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed in 2008, insurance companies cannot enforce harsh benefit limitations on people suffering from addiction or mental health disorders. Unfortunately, this law focuses mainly on large group health plans, such as those employers provide. It does cover individual policies, but it can be more difficult to find ones that fully cover rehabilitation. If court-ordered rehab is anticipated, it may be a good idea to call the insurance company and discuss coverage options. The company should make an effort to find a plan that at least partially covers treatment.

Sliding Fee Centers

The Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services offers a number of non-profit centers aimed at helping people struggling to finance their treatment. Inpatient and outpatient services are provided based on a sliding fee. This fee is calculated according to personal income and savings, meaning the patient won’t pay more than they and/or their families can afford. If the patient has no income, they may not have to pay for treatment at all. As these centers are set up for court-ordered rehab and other forms of crisis intervention, the likelihood of getting access to them is high. Judges are inclined to send defendants to sliding fee centers, because these offer relatively comprehensive rehab programs.

Effectiveness of Court-Mandated Rehab

Families that have an addicted member are often concerned about whether court-ordered rehab will prove effective. It would seem the success rate wouldn’t be very high as people are practically being forced into treatment. However, the effectiveness of court-mandated treatment hinges entirely on intrinsic motivation – that is, the motivation of the person in rehab, not external factors. Data of the NIDA and Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service show that mandatory rehab is just as effective as voluntary rehab. A group of men who underwent court-appointed treatment for alcohol and drug problems reported lower levels of motivation at the beginning of rehab. However, their rates of employment, re-arrest, and abstinence five years later were the same as those of peers who had undergone voluntary rehab.
Results of shorter-term studies have shown similar outcomes. A study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service on coerced treatment effectiveness stated that the person in treatment ultimately “decides upon the outcome” even though court-appointed rehab and other coercive methods of treatment were often shown to be effective approaches to motivate a person to change for the better. Basically, if a person feels no need or doesn’t want to change, they aren’t likely to do so.

Failing to Complete Court-Mandated Rehab

All individuals put into a court-ordered treatment program on drug-related criminal charges, including charges their families have made against them, have to complete their treatment as part of their punishment. If they fail to do so, they face prosecution for their crime to the fullest legally permissible extent (in cases of deferred prosecution programs). They may plead guilty, but they will face the conviction and fine that come with the plea. Depending on the judge, the sentence pronounced may be harsher if someone has failed a treatment program. If the person pleaded guilty before the court ordered rehab, they are taken back to court to face sentencing based on their earlier plea (post-adjudication program). They will likely face a minimum of the sentence previously served, although this is subject to adjustment by the judge as they failed to complete treatment. They can change their plea to “not guilty,” if they choose, but their case probably won’t be successful given the circumstances.

If the program is completed, on the other hand, charges are dropped. This model typically applies in cases where the person doesn’t have a criminal record or has had very few legal troubles. Also, the crime will not show up on their record. If the person has pleaded guilty to the crime and received a sentence and a fine, these will be dropped upon successful completion of the program. This method applies when the person has a prior record.

Court-Ordered Rehab: A Necessary Evil

Court-ordered treatment is frequently an effective way to shock a loved one into realizing what problems their abuse has caused. In this situation, most people will get serious about treatment. This may not guarantee a successful outcome, but there is no fail-safe approach to addiction treatment. Only the commitment and willpower of the person in recovery can ensure positive results. Court-ordered rehab forces them into circumstances, in which they have to consider becoming and staying sober. This is often a crucial first step, as they come to see the possibility of leading a full, satisfying life free of drugs and legal troubles.

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Published on: May 6th, 2016

Updated on: June 3rd, 2020

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.


Leave a comment

  • Brenda K McGreggor
    My son had 2 years prison time in which he maxed out.And was sentenced to two years rehab on his release Is this legal in Georgia. The state made him max out his 2 years.
  • Jennifer
    I have a DHS case and they r trying to make me go to a court order rehab but I am clean so how does that work? Do I still have to do the program and if so how does that work if the person is drug free now.
    • Wish Well
      Rehabs often teach you how to cope as well by using WRAP, MRT, etc. They try to help treat the person not just the addiction.
    • Deb Jones
      Georgia U.S., They have the Laws and the Law books, unless you are Certain People (It’s Who You Law) Money Talks!! If your Not one of Them Forget It!! This Site, I can use my dictionary and get as much help as they have given me!
  • Kathy Montgomery
    The thing is my twin is not breaking any laws, she’s drinking 24/7 literally. I have gotten emergency orders everything ! She has been to rehab about 3 times this year. My sister goes to rehab so she can feel better for a little while then she starts the heavy drinking again. Her body has dawn near shut down on 2 occasions, multiple times with alcohol levels high as 3.6 either time. Alcohol is legal. What other way is there this addict got skills she thinks ?!?
    • Marisol
      How do you get an emergency order?
  • joseph D evans
    Myhusband is waiting for his court dates in jail is there any way possible u could help him get treatment instead of jail time
    • Debbie Trujillo
      My son has fetal alcohol syndrome and bipolar disease and does not work. His drinking has cost us thousands of dollars. How can we get him into rehab at a low cost.
  • Robin
    I have a son who is on probation. But still struggles with drug use. He needs rehab not jail time. How does he handle this with his probation officer
    • April
      Hi we have the same problem I have a brother in the same situation we don’t know what to do about it we need help with this too good luck
    • Danny
      I am in the process of contacting my son’s Fed Prob office about his return to drugs, crack cocaine in his instance, and am hoping he will order him to rehab for the 2 yrs left on his sentence as opposed to jail…he needs the treatment, he doesn’t need more prison time…we shall see…I did this the first time he went back to drugs and they violated him to more prison time, and I’m hoping they will do that this time…but he’s got to want to get clean or he’s going to die from it…
  • Judith
    My 35 year old son is addicted to gambling. He has been arrested for theft and drugs. He says the drugs weren’t his but admits to being addicted to gambling. He has repeatedly stolen from the family members that love him most. He hasn’t had any health insurance for years due to unemployment and couldn’t get Obamacare for the same reason. His court date has been postponed 5 times so far. My son needs help! We are unable to pay for rehab. Where can he get free treatment? He says that he can’t get a job because he can’t pass a background check. Do people give jobs to people with these problems? He had so much potential but now justifies stealing to have money .
    • Lisa
      Hi Judith, I am a college graduate and had a career as an engineer, 3 kids, a husband, a dog, and a a mortgage, the whole nine. I fell into the opiate trap and began using heroin. I lost my career of 15 years, my kids, husband, mortgage, and the dog. I was running the streets and earned myself a petty theft charge. I didn’t go to court on a traffic case or my theft and as a result ended up with warrants. I was already wanting to quit and get help, however, spending a week in jail solidified that want. I reached out for help and completed a 6 month inpatient rehab program. It truly saved my life. I was able to get Medicaid and went to a rehab that took Medicaid. Your son most definitely qualifies for medicaid. If he has told u something different, he lied. That’s what addicts tend to do. If that is the case, Unfortunately, he doesn’t and isn’t ready to quit. If he says differently, remember actions speak louder than words. Best of luck to u and ur son. I will be 2 yrs sober this coming April 11th. It hasn’t and is not easy AT ALL! It works if u work it and helps to think smart not strong. These drugs r far more powerful than I will ever be.
  • Patricia
    My fiancw has gptten his 4 meth charge hes clearly am addict. We have talked about rehab many times now. How do we go about getting it court ordered? And without him going to jail.
    • Jammie
      I have a question referring to this court ordered rehabilitation.. If the person that has been ordered this has not been in front of the judge and the judge has not signed off on the case or he hasn’t been legally sentenced yet , can the person choose to leave rehabilitation and not be put in jail yet until his court date to in fact settle this matter?? Please help asap. Caise my husband may be being done wrong in this matter. We are in the state of TN that the case is in. But I again remind you that he has not been sentenced to this nor has it been signed off on by the judge in the case. Thank you
  • sonya larocque
    Does my son need to have pending charges to get court ordered treatment? If not whats my first step?
    • kathy
      He can leave rehab at any time, but it won’t look good at all when he goes before the judge.
  • Tracy Tate-Scobee
    Help! my 26 year old son with a 12 year drug habit, in and out of jail for possession. just got arrested again!!! his long term girl friend just died last month of an over dose. Our entire family is in turmoil over him and grieving the loss of my sons girlfriend.. I refuse to believe all is hopeless. I have faith that moves mountains.. but who do I ask to help move this MOUNTAIN? We want to keep my son alive! where do I start?. How do I get my son treatment? How Do i ask the courts for help? I need answers. please help!
    • Denise Trevino
      Tracey what state are you in? We are in Michigan and I had my son fill out Medicaid papers. He was able to get in rehab for 22 days. It was a start. Then he was sentenced to 93 days in jail. He’s clean.
  • Robin Bryan
    I fell on my kitchen floor due to a spill. I took too many BC powders for pain and ended up in ICU. Now I am court ordered for one year for drug abuse???
  • Elle
    My sister was ordered to rehab in Georgia but she needed medical ATTENTION mental breakdown, now warrants issued by Judge that is friends with her ex husband. Is there hope for her not to return to prisoner she was on parol
  • Elle
    While in rehab her son and daughter sold her new tv, front load washer dryer and trashed her home. She had a breakdown and needed medical mental help…now warrants issued because she left rehab to obtain medical help is there hope
  • Debbie Acosta
    My grandson had court (possession of meth) yesterday and the judge threw him in jail because he was high. How can we get the judge to order rehab instead of jail time. He needs help, he stolen everything from his mother and brothers that was of any value.
    • Mandy Kirby
      Debbie, did you ever find out how to get help with your grandson? My 20 yr old son was arrested last week for the same thing, has gone before the judge & bond set at 15,000. I can’t pay to bail him out due to him needing help & if he’s out I’m afraid he will go right back to it. He’s asked for help..says he will go wherever he needs to go for help. I just don’t know how this works or who to go to.
  • Honey
    If the program is completed, on the other hand, charges are dropped. This model typically applies in cases where the person doesn’t have a criminal record or has had very few legal troubles. Also, the crime will not show up on their record. If the person has pleaded guilty to the crime and received a sentence and a fine, these will be dropped upon successful completion of the program. This method applies when the person has a prior record
  • D. C.
    I received a DUI and did 10 days in jail, am paying over $1000 in fines. My assessment Dr. suggested a 12 week program at 4 days a week at a cost of $40 a visit. I had a court appointed attorney due to my financial situation and the court is paying for the breathalyzer in my car. How am i supposed to pay another $2000 for “Rehab” that I do not need. I have a 50+ hour a week job that i have been at for 18 years. Do to the DUI i have lost my CDL but my employer has kept me on in a dispatch position. I simply refused a breathalyzer test. Why the double punishment? I feel it cruel and unusual as well as more than what the crime is. No property damage occurred, I have insurance. I was simply pulled over. How is this justice?
    • Aaron
      You’re the one that decided to drink and drive. If you hadn’t none of this would have happened in the first place. Why did you refuse the breathalyzer test? Unless you are willing to take responsibility for your actions instead of crying “unfair unfair”, your situation isn’t going to get any better. You’ll continue to make the same mistakes.
  • bedelia
    Good Day My son is on Tik and stealing my food and our clothes to support his drug habbit. i asked for advise i called Dst and was told to first go to court and the court will refer me to them.My hands or tied i dont know which way to go its causing such allot trouble between me and my husband.please help!!
  • Daniel
    What can be done to you if court orders you to take someone to rehab and that person won’t stay?
  • Rose
    My Fiance has a possession and was on probation for 3 years wad almost finished with comnunity service and halfway through drug counseling. He relapsed and his mom called the courts the day he went in but was really high on heroin his lawyer didnt know what to do. They drug tested him and both swab tests came back negative so they put him on house arrest and was able to still go to work. He had a drug sweat patch that detected all drugs in your sweat every 2 weeks it costed 55 a patch. Well 3 months in he called his lawyer the day before court and said he failed for all of them and that they would sentence him but she said to go apply for rehab and go to the court monitoring place to get the bracelet off after he showed him he was admitting himself to rehab. He couldnt get into anyrhing before court so he freaked and cut the bracelet off and is still awaiting to get into treatment. He doesnt want to face jail time and im just reading about drug court. Any options? Can he seek treatment get ahold of his lawyer with documents before turning himself in and maybe not have to do jail time. Since he cut off his bracelet theyre saying he did it because hes addicted but he actually wants help. PLEASE SOMEONE I NEED ANSWERS ON WHAT TO DO. I DONT WANT HIM TO RUN FOREVER
  • Angel Murphy
    I’m trying to reach out in order to help my brother, Cecil Duwayne Payne age 48. He Wants to turn his life around and he is asking for my help. At this time he is being held n our local jail with a Federal Hold on him. I’m praying you could help or put me n contact with someone who could. I’m located n Birmingham Alabama Thanks in Advance Angel Murphy
  • Leslie
    My friend completed a drug court mandated program and has now since graduating has relapsed. I want to how can we get help for my friend in CA?
  • Carol miller
    I went to Behavioral facility because after being pulled over was going to be arrested but at time was mentally and physically unable to deal and I volunteered for rehab and was told my warrant was dropped so I went home and three months later was pulled over for going 50 in 45 and warrant showed up in systy… now have to go to court…what happened