Drug courts

Program basics

  • Impose supervision, drug treatment and testing, and sanctions for (often specialized) groups drug offenders, rather than incarceration
  • Can reduce recidivism and drug use and may also reduce incarceration
  • Factors that contribute to program success include longer treatment periods, imposing restitution in lieu of fines, and focusing on nonviolent offenders
  • More effective at reducing recidivism than probation for high-risk adult substance abusers
  • Specific programs may target adults or juveniles

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Strong (second-highest tier)

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Strong (second-highest tier)

Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps; the second-highest level of evidence by the National Institute of Justice


Target population

Community-wide

Program cost

$3,226 per participant

Implementation locations

  • Nationwide

Dates active

Not available

Outcomes and impact

  • Reduced adult and juvenile recidivism
  • Reduced drug use
  • Reduced incarceration

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review
  • Limiting participation to nonviolent offenders, longer treatment periods, and weekly staff meetings are associated with better outcomes.
  • Minorities, boys, and offenders with histories of emotional or behavioral problems are less likely to complete course of treatment from drug courts.
  • Admitting participants promptly and prioritizing academic and job skills training lead to higher completion rates in juvenile courts.
  • Federally-supported drug court training and assistance (e.g., the Drug Court Planning Initiative and the National Drug Court Resource Center) are provided through the Office of Justice Programs in the USDOJ.

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