Drug Court Promises

On Dec 7, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which included provisions for spending on drug treatment and prevention, as well as drug courts. The president-elect has said he would expand access to treatment and provide incentives for states to use drug courts and mandatory treatment programs. Here are some drug court facts and figures:

  • At latest count there are more than 3,400 drug courts in the US, serving at least 55,000 defendants annually, according to a recent report from the surgeon general.
  • They were a significant part of the Obama administration’s drug control policy, receiving nearly $100 million in annual funding for the last eight years.
  • Numerous studies show court-ordered addiction treatment reduces relapse and recidivism rates. Inmates receiving treatment are less likely to exhibit conduct problems, and they’re more likely to pursue education or employment after leaving incarceration.
  • Drug courts can be an effective forum for communication because they rely on partnerships between community health care providers, law enforcement agencies and social service programs. The effectiveness of the programs varies by state and county because they’re administered locally.
  • In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that many drug courts were overwhelmed with defendants facing marijuana charges. One consequence of this, the Times reported, was that expensive treatment designed for people with severe substance use disorders was administered to individuals arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
  • the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) statistics show 75 percent of drug-court graduates don’t get arrested within two years of graduation. The same statistics suggest drug courts save taxpayers more than $3 in criminal justice costs for every $1 invested.
  • the Office of National Drug Control Policy found drug courts reduced crime by between 8 and 26 percentage points. The most effective drug courts reduced crime by up to 35 percent compared to traditional criminal justice efforts.
  • Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent report on alcohol, drugs and health said DUI courts reduced recidivism at rates similar to adult drug courts. It also found that nonviolent offenders were the most likely to avoid incarceration after being accepted into a drug court.


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