Drug courts are the most successful innovation to address the treatment needs of substance-abusing offenders. After their launching in 1989 by the Dade County, Florida, local prosecutor, Janet Reno (U.S. Attorney General, 1994–2000), the number of drug courts has proliferated to nearly 800 adult treatment courts and another nearly 1,200 problem-solving courts. The innovation alters how the court handles sentencing and monitors the case, and it integrates treatment into the primary goal of the sentence.
Drug courts provide a seamless system of care involving the judge, treatment agencies, probation/parole agencies, prosecutors, defenders, and other actors in the criminal justice system that are central in assisting offenders in achieving sobriety. This model provides a different framework for handling the drug-involved offender, including the recognition that sobriety is a process where decreased drug use occurs over a period of time. The use of drug testing, treatment, and sanctions also provides for an avenue to modify the existing process for handling offenders with substance abuse disorders.
The following discussion outlines the rationale for the model, the research results on drug treatment courts, the results of a current survey on drug courts, and next steps to advance the concept. The survey results presented are from the recent Criminal Justice Drug Abuse Treatment Studies National Drug Court Survey, the first survey to describe the characteristics of treatment in drug treatment courts.