A Comprehensive Guide to Drug Courts

Last Updated: December 11, 2019

In the last few decades, abusing drugs has become a norm of a certain portion of every society. Anxiety, stress, materialism, moral degradation and lack of proper guidance have caused a rise in the number of cases of substance abuse. In the past, this problem remained with people who were going through a hard time and needed an escape from reality or they were suffering from some painful disease and required potent analgesics. In this age, however, recreational drug use has become a sort of fashion statement, and it has become too easy to acquire and abuse drugs without the knowledge of side effects and social consequences associated with this obsession.
Now that the problem is an internationally acknowledged one, a question arises “how should the drug abuse be controlled?” Many solutions have been proposed based on psychotherapy, religion, moral support and force. However, similar to every criminal activity or dangerous acts, drug abuse was also controlled by the implementation of laws related to this problem. Drug courts were introduced at the beginning of 19th century to instill fear in the drug addicts.

Drug Court: An Overview

Drug court is a program within the judicial system that deals with nonviolent criminal cases involving drug users. The system was put in place with the goal of rehabilitating and reforming offenders with drug addiction problems.
It is a judicial trial court which handles cases of drug addicts as long as no violent activity is involved. This court is set up with the goal of reforming and rehabilitating the offender having drug control problems. Penalties are easy to pay, and if the person has been ordered to do jail time, then it is not for any long period. This court system actually involves many other systems which work in collaboration to bring about a change in the life of the person being tried. Many countries around the world have drug courts such as USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, etc. Systems differ according to customs and laws of the country.

What are the types of Drug Courts?

There are different types of drug courts designed to deal with certain types of offenders. The different types of drug courts include:

  • Adult Drug Court
  • Juvenile Drug Court
  • Family Drug Court
  • Veterans Treatment Court
  • Reentry Courts
  • DWI Courts

Components of a Drug Court and Judicial System

Drug court system differs from the traditional criminal court in many ways. In this court, all the authorities; be it a judge or a defense counselor, all work together to devise the best plan for the person involved in the trial. The components of a drug court which are involved in a case are:

  • Judges
  • Prosecutors
  • Defense Counselors
  • Probation officers
  • Treatment controllers

Do They Drug Test at Court?

Eligibility of a candidate for the drug court program is determined in court by the judge, and initial testing is done by the prosecutors in front of the judge which decides whether the person is the culprit of the charge or not. On spot, testing is done by fast processing devices such as breathalyzers, blood testing devices. All the involved parties are present in the court. Later testing and monitoring are done by the probation officer or treatment officials. But weekly hearings are held throughout the course of treatment where a judge reviews the drug clearance status of the person and success of the program.

Why does the court orders drug tests?

The court orders drug tests to determine whether the person being convicted is the culprit and if that person is eligible for the drug court program. Initial tests are administered in the presence of prosecutors, judges, and other court officials using devices that provide quick results.

General Scheme of Drug Court

The method of working with a court is simple yet effective:

  • The courts provide treatment for all kinds of drugs and alcohol, and the treatment plan is devised according to the need.
  • Abstinence or quitting is monitored by using drug screening tests or alcohol tests performed after some interval.
  • If the participant is found to be non-compliant, there are strategies which decide the course of action according to the level of non-compliance. Relapse is considered as a normal action, but non-compliancy is a criminal act.
  • Attending court for judicial proceedings is an important part of the plan, but if the person involved fails to show up then there are penalties for that.
  • The effectiveness of the plan is regularly monitored.
  • Addicts are educated and made aware of the effects of drugs or alcohol on them, their families and the society, and they are made to interact with other people in rehab to encourage

Types of Drug Courts throughout the World

There are many different Drug Court Models made for different offender types

  • Adult Drug Court – A special court docket for drug abusing individuals who used to be respectable working citizens of the society which function with the goals of reducing chances of recidivism and to ensure their rehabilitation under judicial supervision.
  • Juvenile Drug Court – It is a docket within the juvenile justice system where cases related to minor crimes under drug influence are directed. The youth is made to comply with the treatment plan and the team handling the case meets up many times during the case period and discuss the problems faced by the person and their solution.
  • Family Drug Court – Family Dependency Treatment Court ensures safety, betterment, and wellbeing of the children in a family where parental drug abuse is known. Children are relocated to safer homes by a combined effort of court and child protection organizations where they can be saved from neglect and abuse. In the meanwhile, parents are brought to drug or alcohol abstinence program.
  • DWI Courts – Driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious offense and a threat to road safety, separate courts deal with this problem. Offenders are given penalties, warnings and are closely monitored for a while.
  • Reentry Courts – These courts help the ex-addicts to become sober and respectable citizens of the society after quitting drugs. Reintegration into the society is the hardest part, but these courts help the parolees in finding jobs, housing and helping them in taking family and social responsibilities.
  • Veterans Treatment Court – Military veterans or even employed military personnel has an inclination towards using mentally stimulating substances. They have separate courts where mental health program is integrated with the drug court system to ensure sobriety and mental stability in such individuals.

Pros and Cons of Drug Court System

From the above discussion, it might appear that this judicial system is the perfect answer to the drug abuse problem, but there are many problems with this system as well.

Positive Aspects

  • Reduction in crime rate as many addicts get dragged into the crime world by their addiction, drug dealers or other addicts. Helping them at the beginning of their addiction stops them before such problems start.
  • Judicial supervision and fear of penalties and arrest due to substance abuse or recidivism ensures compliance to a great extent. According to an estimate people who complete their treatment remain sober and arrest free for longer periods of time.
  • Tax payers’ money can be saved when the money spent on dealing with drug problems is compared to the amount spent on crime control and criminals.
  • Drug courts help rehabilitate people who suffered previously because of addiction and restore families who had been torn apart due to this curse.


  • There is no standardized strategy, planning and service differ from state to state even within the same country. People migrating from one place to another suffer because of this.
  • Consideration to personal habits is minimum if a person is hesitant in taking any test or suffers from anxiety or cannot attend the court due to some personal reason they might get sent to jail because of the doubt.
  • Corruption in the system and personal grudges against someone can affect a person’s life as there is no reliable system of accountability of authorities.
  • In their hurry to get a person back into the society, the drug court officials might neglect the level of stress the person can take leading to recidivism due to stress.

Although there is evidence present for and against drug courts, it is necessary to realize that not all the courts are same, but they are a good way to clean the society of the drug abuse problems.

Page Sources

  1. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What Are Drug Courts? 2018. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/treatment/drug-courts/index.html.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice. Drug Courts. 2018. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/238527.pdf.
  3. National Institute of Justice. Do Drug Courts Work? Findings From Drug Court Research. 2018. https://www.nij.gov/topics/courts/drug-courts/Pages/work.aspx.
  4. Office of Justice Programs. Drug Courts. 2018. https://www.nij.gov/topics/courts/drug-courts/Pages/welcome.aspx.

Published on: August 16th, 2016

Updated on: December 11th, 2019


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    This is very good information on drug courts. It is very helpful in understanding the process of drug courts, rehab, resources. and many helpful information tools.