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Drug Court: A drug treatment option

Updated on August 29, 2017

Have you found yourself or a loved one facing drug charges?

Life can seem so hopeless at times. Maybe you have found yourself in a huge mess because of addiction. Perhaps you are watching a loved one on a downward spiral. Suddenly, you find that jail time is eminent. What do you do now? A growing trend in drug rehabilitation and criminal justice is the formation of drug court. Here you will learn just what drug court is, and how you can become a part of this great program.

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How I learned about Drug Court.

Several years ago I had a vague notion of just what this program was. I worked closely with drug addiction counselors, but I just did not take the time to find out just what they did exactly. I was too busy running the mental health side of our office. I had a lot on my mind, so I did not think anything of it. I knew it was a good thing. Flash forward 3 years, my husband and I made a move. In searching for a job, I found a counseling position at a drug rehab/domestic violence center. It took me a little while to settle in, but as I witnessed proceedings and watched lives change I discovered what a wonderful program this is!

How Drug Court Began

In 1989, the Dade County Circuit Court developed an intensive, community-based, treatment, rehabilitation, and supervision program for felony drug defendants to address rapidly increasing recidivism rates. Less than twenty years later, there are more than 2,140 drug courts in operation with another 284 being planned or developed.

Drug court diverts non-violent, substance abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment. By increasing direct supervision of offenders, coordinating public resources, and expediting case processing, drug court can help break the cycle of criminal behavior, alcohol and drug use, and incarceration. A decade of research indicates that drug court reduces crime by lowering rearrest and conviction rates, improv­ing substance abuse treatment outcomes, and reuniting families, and also produces measurable cost benefits.

Courts are operating or being planned in 50 States, the District of Columbia, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, two Federal Districts, and more than 70 tribal locations.

Resource: The Office of National Drug Control Policy

What is Drug Court?

According to Wikipedia, Drug Courts are judicially supervised court dockets that handle the cases of nonviolent substance abusing offenders under the adult, juvenile, family and tribal justice systems. Drug Courts operate under a specialized model in which the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities work together to help non-violent offenders find restoration in recovery and become productive citizens. In the USA, there are currently over 2,459 Drug Courts representing all fifty states. In the UK, drug courts are currently being tested in various places.

Basically, the judges, prosecuting attorney, probation officers, police, counselors, department of family services, and rehab centers work together with the client in forming a treatment that will make them successful in recovery.

Drug Treatment Debate

Do courts have the right to require drug treatment?

How does it work?

The program is specific in that only nonviolent offenders with felony charges can be eligible for the program. If accepted and completed, the client may have the opportunity to have all charges wiped clean from their record. Some clients in the past had assumed this was so, please be sure to talk with the authorities as this is only one option for the program. If the charge is severe enough, you may carry the felony charge after drug court, but do not have to serve the time. I have seen people crash after discovering that the felony will not be taken off of their record.

Each program is unique. There is a basic time frame involved, but the types of incentives, drug testing, graduation requirements, and penalties involved will differ with each judge.

When a person is accepted, they begin in Phase I and continue through Phase III. Completion of the program will be around 18 months. Determination of completion of a Phase is dependent on the team.

Find out all of the details. You may not be able to wipe the felony charge off of your record.

Phase I of Treatment

Phase I is the first step. It is generally a honeymoon period. The addict feels relieved to be out of jail and hopeful of getting their felony charges dropped. There is usually a lot of denial at this stage in the treatment. They are cautious of others and leery of the system, in general.

Phase I may include:

Intake/assessment with a counselor

court fees

addiction counseling (individual and group)

community service

GED/College Courses

Joining AA/NA or other relevant support groups

Job Search and establishing employment

educational classes about addiction

daily drug testing(this is determined by the team)

daily call ins to see if there is a drug test

Phase II: The Long Hard Road to Recovery

Now the honeymoon is over and the real work begins. Each client reacts differently while in treatment. At the point in the game, some become angry at themselves, others, counselors, the courts. Some relapse. Some feel like the program is too long and begin to lose hope. Realize that this is a tough program, and slip ups happen. The team works to build the best treatment program for each client, so these things are taken into consideration.

Phase II works in much the same way as Phase I. There are a few less drug tests (as this is one incentive for reaching the next phase) and a few less counseling sessions. There is an increased emphasis on keeping a job at this point. The idea is that counseling decreases over time and employment increases. This Phase also happens to be the longest due to the intensity of the counseling involved.

Phase III: The Final Stages of Treatment

The home stretch is in sight. At this point in the game, the client is feeling very hopeful and nervous at the same time. After all, 18 months of their lives have been spent with the same group of people who have provided much support. Some feel they cannot do it on their own. This is why treatment is cut back significantly. The client is expected to be functioning independently with a full time job. They are usually a leader to others and highly involved in support groups. Drug testing and counseling are usually once a week in this phase. Graduation is in the near future, and a sense of pride is felt by the whole team. This, of course, is my favorite phase. I love seeing lives changed.

Incentives and Penalties

While in the program, there can be incentives or penalties depending on how the client is progressing. Incentives can be just about anything. I have seen some creative programs out there. The drug court I was involved in used reduction of court fees, reduction of community service, and gift cards. I have to say that our center treated clients very well during Christmas!!

Penalties can result due to failure to complete a drug screen, cheating a drug screen, being involved in illegal activity, failing to show up on time for court/drug screenings/or counseling. Penalties can include: a longer time spent in a phase, being dropped down a phase, increased community service, jail time, or even being kicked out of the program.

The team works together to find what will best work for each client, so the incentives are just as important as any penalty that may be given. This program is a very positive one and works to support the client in their recovery.

What do you think of drug court?

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    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image


      6 years ago from McLaughlin

      This sounds like a wonderful, beneficial program.

    • ShortStuffsSecr profile image


      6 years ago

      Great source of information! I am going to lensroll this onto my lens of Drug Courts in America at

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am a libertarian and I strongly oppose the incarceration of non-violent drug users. I also oppose court-mandated treatment for drug users. It is not the place of the government to tell a person what he can or cannot do with his body, nor is it the place of the government to force a person to look to a higher power, support group or treatment plan.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My dad was faced with two options by a federal judge: federal prison, or going to a drug rehab called Narconon. He went to Narconon and has been drug free ever since, and has not been in trouble with the law. Thank you for making people aware. Come visit my lense and let me know what you think!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      interesting lens


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