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Overview of Drug Courts

Date Published
May 14, 2012

Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems.

As of June 2015, the estimated number of drug courts operating in the U.S. is over 3,000. The majority target adults, including DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenders and a growing number of Veterans; others address juvenile, child welfare, and different case types.[1]

Number and Types of Drug Courts (As of June 2015)
Type of Drug Court Number
Adult 1,558
Juvenile 409
Family 312
Veterans 306
DWI 284
Tribal 138
Co-occurring 70
Re-entry 29
Federal District 27
Federal Veterans 6
Campus 3
Total 3,142

Find a drug court using the National Drug Court Resource Center's database.

The Drug Court Model

Although drug courts vary in target population, program design, and service resources, they are generally based on a comprehensive model involving:

  • Offender screening and assessment of risks, needs, and responsivity.
  • Judicial interaction.
  • Monitoring (e.g., drug testing) and supervision.
  • Graduated sanctions and incentives.
  • Treatment and rehabilitation services.

Drug courts are usually managed by a nonadversarial and multidisciplinary team including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community corrections, social workers and treatment service professionals. Support from stakeholders representing law enforcement, the family and the community is encouraged through participation in hearings, programming and events like graduation.

For information on evidence based practices, visit the BJA-NIJ Adult Drug Court Research to Practice (R2P) Initiative

Also see NIJ's webpage on Drug Court Performance Measures, Program Evaluation and Cost Efficiency

For information on training and technical assistance resources:

[note 1] Counts of drug court programs provided by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. 

National Institute of Justice, "Overview of Drug Courts," May 14, 2012, nij.ojp.gov:
http://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/overview-drug-courts
Date Created: May 14, 2012