Drug Courts

What is a Drug Court?

Adult Drug Courts are evidence based court programs that provide an alternative to traditional criminal justice case adjudication for high risk/high need individuals struggling with substance use disorders. These collaborative justice court models take a team based, less adversarial approach to case processing and combine close judicial oversight and monitoring with intensive supervision and substance abuse treatment services in lieu of incarceration.

The goals of these programs are to:

  • reduce recidivism and substance abuse in substance abusing offenders
  • increase the offender's likelihood of successful rehabilitation by addressing substance abuse or other underlying issues that may have contributed to their criminal justice involvement.

Juvenile and Dependency Drug Courts use similar approaches as the adult drug court model.

How do Drug Courts Work?

Although drug courts operate differently in different jurisdictions, all should adhere to the nationally accepted guidelines developed by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components.  NADCP’s  Best Practice Standards provide specific, research based information on drug court best practices.

Most adult drug courts in California are post-adjudication models in which participants are placed in drug court after entering a guilty plea. Charges can often be reduced after successful completion of the drug court program. Graduation requirement vary but typically involve completion of educational and job training requirements in addition to sobriety.  Diversion and pre-pleas model courts work similarly, but do not require an initial guilty pleas. More information can be found here.

Are Drug Courts Effective?

Yes. Drug courts are some of the most thoroughly researched court programs and the overwhelming evidence suggests that they are effective and cost beneficial when best practices are used.  A sample of evaluations can be found from the National Institute of Justice drug court research, and the Government Accountability Office report.

Drug Court Resources