Drug courts

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • 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

Evidence and impacts


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

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

Best practices in 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.