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Drug Courts: A Bridge Between Criminal Justice and Health Services

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 29 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2001 Pages: 241-253
Date Published
May 2001
13 pages

This study investigated the role of drug courts as a bridge between criminal justice and health services in the community for the drug-abusing offender.


There is a distinct overlap between the public health threats of drug abuse and crime. Crimes are often drug-related and drug offenders frequently encounter the criminal justice system. Yet, courts rarely address the defendant’s drug problems. Drug courts are a growing phenomenon and represent an innovative approach to addressing both crime and drug abuse. Of great importance is the link that drug courts represent between the criminal justice and health services systems. The connections to health services are considered vital to drug courts but are not understood. This paper discussed the importance of building bridges between criminal justice and health services and presented a conceptual framework for organizing a comprehensive investigation of them. This study used data from a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsored study of 14 drug court programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. The services planned for the 14 drug court programs included: substance abuse treatment, public health, mental health, housing, referrals for jobs, and educational services. The sites recognized the importance of providing not only drug treatment but other services as well to offenders. Substance abuse treatment appeared to be the service most available to drug court offenders. TASC (Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime) was identified as a key component of the linkage for 5 of the 14 sites. TASC represents one of the earliest and best linkages or bridges between the criminal justice system and community-based substance abuse treatment programs. Resource limitations were presented and included: (1) few drug courts have sufficient resources in management information systems; (2) the relationships between drug courts and providers of services to offenders were characterized by informality; and (3) the lack of assurance for long-term funding. In addition, limitations in collaborative linkages and the importance of strong bridges may not be fully recognized by all drug court staff. It was suggested that the limited evaluative studies cause insufficient evidence that bridge building is effective causing reasonable hesitation in the development of these ties. Tables and references

Date Published: May 1, 2001