Friday, March 2, 2012

Drug Courts DO Work

Drug offenses are one of our Nation’s leading problems. More than half of criminal offenders that have been arrested test positive for drugs (1). In addition, a significant amount of cases that go through the court system are somehow related to drugs. While many of these offenders who go through the system are convicted and sentenced for major drug offenses in conjunction with other violent felonies, many of these offenders are simply non-violent substance abusers who are arrested for simple possession charges. Under the regular court system, these kinds of offenders would almost always recidivate. After realizing that the system clearly was not working to reduce recidivism, the first drug court was implemented in Miami-Dade County in 1989 (2). Since its implementation, the use of Drug Courts has gained popularity by the criminal justice system. By 2010, over 2,633 Drug Courts were operating in every US State and territory (2).

Drug Courts are defined as “special court calendars or dockets designed to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among nonviolent, substance abusing offenders by increasing their likelihood for successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicially supervised treatment; mandatory periodic drug testing; and the use of appropriate sanctions and other rehabilitation services” (3). A drug offender has many needs other than substance abuse rehabilitation. Most times, substance abusers have poor overall health in areas such as physical and mental health, housing and family assistance, job training and placement assistance and living skills (6). Instead of punishing an offender for his or her conduct, drug courts have three primary goals: (1) to reduce recidivism, (2) to reduce substance abuse among participants, and (3) to rehabilitate participants (3). By successfully completing the drug court treatment program, an offender can lead a clean and successful life.

Drug courts utilize a specific model to accomplish the three goals. Some of the key components of drug courts are: (1) creating a non-adversarial relationship between the defendant and the court, (2) identifying a defendant’s needs for treatment and referring them, (3) monitoring offenders by drug testing, (4) maintaining judicial interaction with each participant, (5) monitoring and evaluating program goals and gauging their effectiveness, (6) rewards and sanctions for participant, among many others (3). By addressing an offender’s unique needs, this program can individualize to each offender to help him or her be successful in life.

Since its implementation, Drug Courts have been a popular subject for researchers who are interested in determining the effectiveness of this program. Numerous studies have compared recidivism rates of Drug Court participants versus offenders in probationary programs. One study found that after two years, the felony re-arrest rate decreased from 40 percent before drug court to 12 percent (4). According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), drug courts tend to reduce crime; “Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program” (5). In addition, many studies have concluded that Drug Courts can reduce crime as much as 35% more than other sentencing options (5).

In addition to reducing recidivism rates, Drug Courts also save tax-payers money. In fact, the NADCP states that “for every $1.00 invested in Drug Court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone” (5). When you take into account the number of criminal offenders in Court and the costs of going to Court versus the costs of Drug Courts, this is a substantial amount of money being saved. The NADCP further states that “Drug Courts produce cost savings ranging from $4000 to $12,000 per client. These cost savings reflect reduced prison costs, reduced revolving-door arrest and trials, and reduced victimization” (5). These are just two of the major benefits of Drug Courts. Other benefits include ensuring compliance from participants, combating meth addictions, and restoring families.

Overall, Drug Courts are continuing to show that it is effective in rehabilitating offenders and reducing recidivism. Drug Courts have reduced crime among participants, it reduces the costs of going through court, reduces the costs of crime, and helps participants turn their life around. While it has shown to be effective, only time and more research will show the long-term effects on crime and the criminal justice system.







(6) Drug Courts: A Bridge Between Criminal Justice and Health Services by Suzanne L. Wenzel, Douglas Longshore, Susan Turner, and Susan Ridgely. Journal of Criminal Justice.


  1. Drug courts seem to be the best solution for decreasing drug related crimes. I am a firm believer in evidence based corrections, and there is plenty of empirical evidence so far explaining the success of drug courts. Drug courts not only save the community money and fear of recidivism, but most importantly the offenders are being helped. Incarceration for non-violent drug offenders is not the answer. Individuals addicted to drugs need treatment, therapy, and other social services.

    Drug courts appear to be a move in the right direction for corrections in the United States. Offenders are finally being viewed as humans, instead of clients. Drug courts allow the individuals to get their lives back, by taking care of their needs. I for one find it encouraging that individuals with a drug addiction are finally being treated for their problems instead of being repeatedly pushed through the system and returned to a prison cell. By treating the offender's problems instead of ignoring them, both the community and the individual are given a better chance at a life with less criminal behavior.

  2. Drug courts are great because these offenders finally get someone on their side. As we know many of these drug offenders can be emotionally unstable because of their past, but when in drug court these people have someone that believes in the someone that cares about their change and is investing time and resources to motivate these people to change their lives.

  3. Drug courts are the way of the future, and it has so many benefits. It saves so much money and also prevents many people from going to prison. This then in turn also helps our extreme over population problem. I also like how drug courts give great responsibility to the offender. Drug courts put the ball in the offenders hands to shape their own future. So, the people that cannot deal with the responsibility deserve to go prison.

  4. I think that drug courts are a really good idea. Drug addiction is considered a disease, so why should people with diseases be punished as criminals for that? Also, I think it is really good how they work with the drug users to try to help rehabilitate them, instead of just punishing them and then letting them go back to their drug use. It is good to hear that the re-arrest rate decreased so drastically after drug courts were implemented, that means that they are really working.

  5. I agree that drug courts are a great idea. Prison and jail time does nothing to help individuals addicted to drugs. They have a disease and need to receive treatment in order to get healthy. Rehabilitation is really the way to go with drug offenders. Plus, drug court can really change someone’s life. A speaker came from Mclean county drug court to talk in another class I’m taking. His story was incredible and drug court really saved his life, where prison time did nothing.

  6. I went and observed a drug court not to long ago, and after seeing it first hand I must say I am a huge supporter for drug courts. Looking at the statistics alone anyone can tell that drug courts are working. The whole idea of creating a court focused directly towards drugs was genious. It allows the criminal justice system to basically work hand and hand with the offender. I really liked the video that you had posted dealing with drug courts. I did not realize the amount of support that it is recieving nation wide. Based what I have seen in the mclean county drug court, I am truly a supporter for having a drug court system.