Drug Courts

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  • The sooner a person with an addiction gets help, the better.
  • Treatment may be successful even it it is mandated, as through a court program.

Drug courts serve certain people who have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense that is either drug-related or committed to support a drug habit. Participants in drug courts may avoid criminal prosecution or imprisonment in exchange for completing an intensive regimen of treatment and supervisory services.

Clients must participate in needed treatment sessions and submit urine samples that are tested for drugs on a random weekly basis. Clients also appear frequently in court before the judge on a regular basis to review their progress in treatment. The judge may administer positive rewards for doing well or negative sanctions for doing poorly. Examples of rewards may include praise, small gifts and certificates of recognition. Examples of sanctions may include a verbal scolding, written homework assignments, fines, community service or even a few days in jail. Successful graduation leads to the ultimate reward: either the criminal charges are dropped or the sentence is considerably reduced in length or harshness.

Research indicates that clients in drug courts receive more treatment services, closer monitoring and more certain and immediate consequences for their behaviors than individuals in most other types of criminal justice programs. They also engage in less drug use during treatment and have lower re-arrest rates for up to three years after their arrest. Largely because of this success, there are now more than 2,100 drug courts in every state and territory in the United States. There are also more than 1,000 other types of "problem-solving courts" that are similar to drug courts, but focus on other issues such as driving while impaired (DWI), mental illness, juvenile delinquency or domestic violence. Unfortunately, despite their impressive growth, drug courts still serve less than 5-10% of the people who need them, according to estimates. Nearly two-thirds of local counties do not have a drug court and many that do can handle only a relatively small capacity.

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If you are considering drug court or DWI court for a loved one, there are several questions to ask: