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Substance abuse treatment

Substance Abuse Treatment Courts Work

Substance Abuse Treatment Courts Work

Courts that aim to stop drug abuse and related criminal activity. Certainly for offenders through court-directed treatment and rehab drug rehabilitation programmes.

How do they work?
  • Eligible participants undergo treatment and rehabilitation programmes instead of traditional final sanctions such as imprisonment.
  • The Court’s multi-disciplinary justice and healthcare systems team. Also led by the judge as a leader among equals. He or she oversees each participant’s progress throughout.
  • Compliance is objectively monitored by frequent substance-abuse testing. This compliance is rewarded and non-compliance sanctioned.
  • Successful completion leads to, e.g., suspension or dismissal of the criminal case, non-custodial sentence or probation.
  • Recidivism or serious programme non-compliance leads to expulsion. The offender is then dealt with in the traditional criminal justice system.
Do they all work the same way?

  • There is no single universal DTC model. What works best in one place may not in another. But the core underlying characteristics remain the same.
  • Some DTCs are newly established separate courts. Others are existing courts with specially adjusted procedures.
  • DTC’s have evolved in different forms to suit different needs, legal systems and localities.
  • Key differences include eligibility criteria, when the case is diverted from prosecution, and end of programme outcomes.

A growing movement Courts applying key principles for court-directed treatment
and rehab drug rehabilitation programmes* operate or are under consideration in:

Australasia: Australia, New Zealand
Americas and Caribbean: Barbados, Bermuda,
Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Jamaica,
Trinidad and Tobago, United States
Europe: Norway, Scotland, Ireland

DTC success factors
  • Effective judicial leadership of the DTC team.
  • Strong interdisciplinary team collaboration—each maintaining professional independence.
  • Good knowledge of addiction, treatment and recovery by justice system team members, and of criminality by the healthcare members.
  • Operational manual for consistency and efficiency.
  • Clear participant eligibility criteria, with objective screening of potential participants.
  • Detailed assessment of each potential participant.
  • Fully informed/documented consent of each participant to be admitted to DTC.
  • Speedy referral of participants to treatment and rehabilitation following arrest.
  • Swift, certain and consistent sanctions for noncompliance and rewards for compliance.
  • Ongoing DTC programme evaluation, and willingness to make improvements.
  • Sufficient, sustained and dedicated DTC funding.
  • Changes in underlying substantive or procedural law, if necessary or appropriate.

Substance Abuse Treatment Courts Evaluation

Evaluations consistently show that Drug Rehab Treatment Courts effectively reduce recidivism and underlying addiction problems of drug abusing offenders.
They provide closer, more comprehensive supervision and more frequent drug testing and monitoring during the programme than other forms of community supervision. 
“It costs approximately $8,000 Canadian dollars per annum to provide substance abuse treatment to the Toronto Drug Treatment Court participant and $45,000 to incarcerate the same participant for one year…

“Only 11.6% of those who complete the drug rehab court programme run into trouble
again with the law.” (Canada) “… 

From a sample of 17,000 drug court graduates nationwide, within one year of programme graduation, only 16.4% had been rearrested and charged with a felony offense.” (USA)

“A state taxpayer’s return on the upfront investment in drug courts is substantial. They are a more cost effective method of dealing with drug problems than either probation or prison.” (USA)

“The Court offers a high level of support and supervision in an endeavour to break the cycle of drug dependency, the commission of crime to finance the dependency, imprisonment and a return to drug dependency upon release from prison.” (Australia)

“Recidivism is significantly reduced for those who successfully complete the drug court programme … the reductions in offending pre-and post-programme
are greater for the drug court graduates than the comparison groups.” (Australia)


“Public interest is best served by a situation where an individual manages to overcome an addiction and no longer needs to finance this addiction; then the cycle is broken.”
(Drug Court Judge)

“I want to thank the police officer for arresting me then; thanks to Drug Court and the team, now I got my life and my family back.”
(Drug Court Graduate)

“This is not soft on crime. This is a programme that works.” (State Auditor)

“DTC participants improved in their physical and
psychological health. They displayed lower substance use and increased social stability.” (Evaluator)

“I either stopped or died. I took the chance. Going to court (regularly) got me into a structured life.” (Drug Court Candidate)

“It is great personal satisfaction to see someone who was a complete addict, written off by everybody, to go through the programme, do well and become a productive member of society.” (Prosecutor)

“I hope that it (Drug Treatment Court) stays in the system so it can help others like myself. To help them bring their lives back on track.” (Drug Court Graduate)