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Seven Program Design Features: Adult Drug Court Principles, Research and Practice

NCJ Number
Date Published
20 pages

Based on the best available research on drug courts and related programs and services, this report presents seven drug court features that may be used in designing more effective drug court programs.


The seven program design features discussed are screening and assessment; the target population; procedural and distributive justice; judicial interaction; monitoring; treatment and other services; and relapse prevention, aftercare, and community integration. Regarding screening and assessment principles, concerns discussed include brief legal and behavioral screening for program eligibility, as well as more intensive clinical and psychosocial assessment of risk, needs, and responsivity. Regarding target population principles, the discussion focuses on specifying the offender subgroups the program is designed to service. For procedural and distributive justice/principles, the issues addressed are fair process and equitable outcomes as well as participants' perception that these principles are being implemented by the drug court. Judicial interaction principles pertain to judicial functions at drug court hearings, including communications between the judge and participants. Monitoring principles involve community-based surveillance and supervision of participants to confirm and manage compliance with abstinence and other program requirements. Treatment and other services relate to the quality of alcohol and other drug treatment, as well as rehabilitation services concerned with employment, education, physical and mental health, and other needs. Relapse prevention, aftercare, and community integration principles feature the identification of "triggers" associated with potential relapse and supports that prevent relapse during and after program participation. The seven design features for drug courts were drawn from the NIJ-sponsored Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation, an unprecedented process, impact, and cost evaluation that involved nearly 1,800 drug court and non-drug-court probationers from 29 jurisdictions across the United States. 21 references

Date Published: January 1, 2012