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Drug Courts in the U.S.

Efforts to reduce crime in the U.S. have recently focused on the rehabilitation of criminals to prevent multiple convictions within the court system. The high rate of repeated non-violent crimes among prisoners with drug-related offenses has inspired the development of drug courts. The idea for these courts originated in Miami in 1989, in response to the growing problems related to crack-cocaine, and are currently operating in all 50 states. With the success of drug courts across the country, communities are focusing on the benefits of these programs and the efforts of law enforcement, corrections and probation officers, social services, mental health services and substance abuse treatment professionals to provide a full-range program that monitors and rehabilitates criminals, reducing the recidivism rate significantly as compared to those that did not participate in a drug court program.

Drug court programs focus on various populations affected by drug and alcohol abuse including adults, juveniles, families, veterans, American Indians, DWI offenders and more. The key components of drug courts are defined by the Department of Justice as:

  1. Drug Courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.
  2. Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety. Participants must waive their due process rights to a speedy trial and sign a pre-emptive confession before being allowed to participate.
  3. Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the Drug Court program.
  4. Drug Courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
  5. Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
  6. A coordinated strategy governs Drug Court responses to participant’s compliance.
  7. Ongoing judicial interaction with each Drug Court participant is essential.
  8. Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
  9. Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective Drug Court planning, implementation, and operations.
  10. Forging partnerships among Drug Courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances Drug Court effectiveness.

In addition, the Department of Justice has recognized that 1.2 million offenders in the criminal justice system could be eligible for drug court. In areas like Baltimore, Maryland, where the recidivism rate was reported at 48% among drug court participants, in comparison to the 64% rate reported by those sentenced by a traditional court, these figures indicate the success of drug courts. Probation and Corrections Officers play a large role in the rehabilitation of those in drug courts, providing assistance, support, monitoring and accountability to the offenders.


For the convicted offender, family and loved ones, drug courts provide the necessary support and monitoring to help establish strong ties to living as a productive citizen. The success of drug courts is represented in all areas of the country, providing a proactive means to end the problems of non-violent, drug-related crime.

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