What is Drug Court?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 March 2020
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Drug court is a court which is convened for the purpose of addressing nonviolent drug-related offenses. The origins of drug courts lie in the drug court system first established in Miami in the late 1980s. Concerned about the increasing numbers of drug cases and their impact on the legal system, judges proposed developing a court which would focus specifically on drug offenses with the goal of reducing recidivism and promoting recovery, rather than putting drug offenders in prison environments where they might network with other offenders and learn behaviors which would lead to escalating criminal activities upon their release.

In a drug court, an offender is offered the option of attending a treatment plan under supervision in lieu of going to prison. If the offender accepts, the court works out a deal in cooperation with the offender, a therapeutic professional, the offender's lawyer, and other representatives of the drug court. The offender must abide by a strict set of rules while in treatment and can be subjected to penalties if he or she violates the agreement.

While in treatment, the offender must check in regularly. People providing treatment offer progress reports, and the offender must usually submit to random drug testing to confirm continued sobriety. In addition, offenders may be ordered to stay out of certain neighborhoods, to refrain from contact with certain people, and to observe other rules which are designed to break the cycle of drug use, addiction, and crime.


Both incentives and punishments are used to enforce the agreement established in drug court. These provide motivations for offenders to comply with the program which they have established so that they can eventually be released. Drug courts connect offenders with valuable community resources which help them access jobs, housing, and benefits which may help them as they recover and attempt to rebuild their lives.

The drug court model recognizes that there are a number of circumstances involved in drug-related offenses. By catching offenders early in what tends to be an escalating cycle of criminal activities, drug courts attempt to reduce recidivism, keep the streets safer, and enforce the law more effectively and at lower cost to the legal system. Such courts have proved highly effective in many regions where they have been established, along with other diversionary courts which are intended to lead offenders away from criminal behavior and to help them identify and take advantage of alternatives to crime.



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