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Drug Courts

Drug courts are specialized courts that offers an alternative to jail for a person who has committed a crime and has a substance use disorder. Drug courts closely supervise offenders with substance use disorders, require drug testing and treatment, and will levy consequences for failed drug tests or other non-compliance issues. Drug courts typically specialize in subpopulations like juveniles, families, or may be substance-specific, such as with drunk driving charges.

There is strong evidence that drug courts reduce drug use and reduce drug-related recidivism in adults. Drug courts have shown to produce a benefit to cost ratio of $53.66 of benefits for every dollar spent on youth-related courts and $2.82 of benefits for every dollar spent on adult participants.

While rural drug courts may not have the resources of their urban counterparts, they face unique benefits in having close working relationships with other branches of government in their communities and may even be personally familiar with individual citizens and their families.

Family treatment drug courts (FTDCs) are another type of specialized drug court that have demonstrated strong evidence to effectively help manage substance use disorders by increasing treatment and family reunification. FTDCs include intense juvenile monitoring, drug treatment, and testing and compliance.

Examples of Drug Courts

  • Suffolk County, New York has implemented an alternative to incarceration program. The Suffolk County (NY) Drug Treatment Court program provides education and treatment for substance use disorders. A study demonstrated a lower recidivism rate for drug court participants than those in the comparison group.

Considerations for Implementation

A barrier common to various rural drug courts is a shortage of treatment facilities and other resources such as support services. Other common barriers include but are not limited to:

  • Lack of treatment availability to the full continuum of treatment services
  • Lack of access to adequate wraparound services for drug court participants
  • Lack of substance free housing for participants
  • Limited transportation options to treatment facilities
  • Provision of proper training for drug court staff
  • Confidentiality of drug participants in treatment
  • Provision of drug testing at a reasonable cost that adheres to evidence based practices

Resources to Learn More

Drug Court Treatment Issues in Rural America
Presentation Slides
Sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance U.S. Department of Justice and American University School of Public Affairs, this interactive webinar was held in 2014. Various challenges were addressed by qualified panelists to help overcome many of the barriers rural drug courts face on a regular basis.
Organization(s): Bureau of Justice Assistance U.S. Department of Justice and American University School of Public Affairs
Date: 1/2014

Drug Courts: An Effective Strategy for Communities Facing Methamphetamine
Created by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, this report highlights the data and anecdotal evidence have created large support for drug courts throughout communities in the United States.
Author(s): West Huddleston III, C.
Date: 5/2005

Medication-Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts Recommended Strategies
This report presents information on medication-assisted treatment (MAT), recommended strategies for drug courts to incorporate MAT, profiles of three courts using MAT, and specific considerations for rural communities.
Author(s): Friedman, S. & Wagner-Goldstein, K.
Organization(s): The Legal Action Center, Center for Court Innovation, and the New York State Unified Court System's Office of Policy and Planning

National Drug Court Resource Center
A database of resources including training and technical assistance, a drug court locator by state, fact sheets, and sample forms.

A Technical Assistance Guide For Drug Court Judges on Drug Court Treatment Services
This technical assistance guide created for judges newly assigned to drug courts provides an overview of drug courts, with a chapter focusing on the special challenges faced by rural drug courts.
Author(s): Kushner, J., Peters, R., and Cooper, C.
Organization(s): Bureau of Justice Assistance Drug Court Technical Assistance Project, American University School of Public Affairs Justice Programs Office
Date: 5/2014