Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Adult Drug Courts and the Treatment of Substance Abuse: A Marriage of Corrections and Substance Abuse Treatment

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Adult Drug Courts and the Treatment of Substance Abuse: A Marriage of Corrections and Substance Abuse Treatment

Article excerpt


Drug courts have been an aspect of the corrections scene for over twenty years. Beginning with the first drug court in Miami, Florida in 1989, there are now 2840 drug courts throughout the United States and territories, serving about 52777 participants who are at risk for substance abuse and dependence (National Drug Court Institute, 2014). This represents about 10 percent of the 1.2 million adults arrested in the United States each year that are at risk for substance abuse and dependence (Sevigny, Fuleihan, & Ferdik, 2013).

Drug courts emerged as a means to deal with the burgeoning criminal justice system population within the United States. Between 1973 and 2009, the prison inmate population increased 705 percent coupled with rapid cost increases required to operate prison systems (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012). This boom in inmate populations was associated with several factors to include more stringent sentencing for drug related crimes at the state and federal levels. Since 2010, inmate populations have declined in a majority of American states (Carson & Golinelli, 2013; Desilver, 2014). Part of this decline is attributed to state level changes in drug policies and sentencing, and alternative sentencing and corrections programs to include the drug court program.

The drug court movement reaches beyond the United States. Twenty-three nations utilize drug courts, also known as drug treatment courts, in providing services to substance abusing adults and their families (Global Center for Drug Treatment Courts, 2014). These nations are likely to endorse reduction in demand through the use of prescribed maintenance drugs or needle exchange programs rather than advocating total abstinence from all substances as is likely the case in a United States drug court. These nations also view success in terms of reducing drug use and criminal activity opposed to striving for no criminal recidivism or drug use as espoused within United States drug court programs. International Drug Treatment Courts ( and Nolan (2010) provide perspectives on international drug courts and comparative practices within these courts and those in the United States .

What are Drug Courts

Drug courts are an aspect of several types of accountability or problem solving court programs. A drug court is a specific court docket with the purpose of reducing criminal recidivism, substance abuse and increasing the likelihood of successful habilitation among nonviolent substance abuse offenders. Drug courts have central philosophical and empirical principles that guide program operation. Known as the ten key concepts (Huddleston & Marlowe, 2011; United States Department of Justice, 1997), these principles include:

* Integration of alcohol and drug treatment with justice system case processing;

* Non-adversarial judicial process with prosecution and defense personnel promoting public safety and protecting participant due process rights;

* Early identification and prompt placement of eligible participants into the court program;

* Participant access to a continuum of alcohol and drug related treatment and rehabilitation services;

* Drug abstinence is monitored through frequent alcohol and drug testing;

* Coordinated treatment, sanction, and reinforcement strategies are used to respond to participant compliance;

* Judicial interaction, oversight, and review with each participant is essential throughout the drug court experience;

* Program goals and effectiveness are monitored through systematic program evaluation;

* Interdisciplinary education and a multidisciplinary team approach promotes effective court planning, implementation, and operations;

* Partnerships are established between community and public organizations and the court to enhance program effectiveness and promote community support. …

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