Drug court programs have been championed as an effective alternative to incarcerating justice-involved individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders. But just how effective are they? We break down the basics you need to know about drug courts and how they are, in fact, improving lives and communities across the nation.

What Are Drug Courts?

Traditionally, the justice system has sent individuals with substance use disorders and non-violent offenses to jail without consideration for the underlying causes behind the offense. Drug court models aim to change that. Simply put, drug courts divert justice-involved individuals away from incarceration and into supervised treatment programs.

How Do They Work?

Every drug court is different. Some, for example, don’t allow individuals that commit violent offenses, and others don’t allow individuals charged with selling drugs. While there aren’t universal eligibility requirements, individuals usually enter a drug court program in one of two ways:

Following a pre-trial or deferred prosecution approach, individuals are diverted from traditional court proceedings to a drug court program before pleading to a charge. In post-adjudication courts, individuals’ sentences are deferred or suspended after they plead guilty to a charge. In the latter case, the plea may be withdrawn once they’ve completed their treatment program.

No matter the drug court model, once an individual has entered a program, their therapeutic team (treatment providers, the judge, lawyers, case managers, supervisors, and more) works closely together to ensure they receive necessary support services. Team members also monitor compliance with treatment regimens, which include everything from frequent “status hearings” and drug testing to treatment and rehabilitation programs with healthcare professionals.

How Well Do They Work? The Data Behind Drug Courts.

The aim of treatment programs within the criminal justice system is to reduce recidivism and promote recovery, and we continue to see drug courts achieve that goal. Since the first drug court was established in 1989, multiple studies have shown the impact of this new, more holistic way of approaching criminal justice.

One study found that recidivism rates in adult drug courts dropped from 50% to about 38%. In another, 66% of drug court graduates were re-arrested, compared to 88% of non-participants. Not all drug courts may be this effective due to, for example, limitations in the types of treatment available for each program, but current data suggests that drug courts are a promising alternative to incarceration.

What Are the Benefits?

On top of reducing recidivism, drug courts have a variety of other benefits for the justice-involved individual, community, and justice system. Some of the biggest notable include:

Lower costs: In a study conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Justice, the outcomes of long-term court programs lowered public spending by an average of $6,744.

Reduced substance abuse: Drug courts have shown to be effective at reducing not just recidivism but also a participant’s rate of substance abuse—both during and after program completion.

Growing availability: Today, drug courts are no longer limited to adults and have expanded to include juvenile treatment courts, mental health courts, veteran treatment courts, and more.

iTether: Supporting Justice-Involved Individuals With Telehealth

Effective communication between team members is one of the keys to a successful drug court program, and iTether is making that possible with our fully-integrated telehealth platform. Connect with us today to learn more about how we’re supporting criminal justice agencies and the individuals involved.