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Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Drug Courts: A Review of the Evidence (Sentencing Project)

  • Organization: The Sentencing Project
  • Document Type: Report
  • Date Created: Thursday, April 02, 2009
  • Submitted: Thursday, April 02, 2009
  • Attachment(s): LINK

In 1989, officials in Miami-Dade County, Florida established the nation's first drug court. This special court was designed to bring drug treatment more fully into the criminal justice system, treating offenders with a history of drug abuse for their addiction, while simultaneously ensuring supervision, and sanctions when needed, from the courts. The movement for an alternative court to sentence drug offenders emerged from the rapidly evolving reality that the nation's decision to address drug abuse through law enforcement mechanisms would continue to pose significant challenges for the criminal court system. In 2004, 53% of persons in state prison were identified with a drug dependence or abuse problem, but only 15% were receiving professional treatment. Drug-related crime continues to present a costly burden to American society, one that supply reduction efforts have failed to stem. In 2001, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that in 1998 illegal drug use cost Americans $31.1 billion in criminal justice expenses, $30.1 billion in lost productivity and $2.9 billion in costs related to property damage and victimization.

Since 1989, drug courts have spread throughout the country; there are now over 1,600 such courts operating in all 50 states. The drug court movement reflects a desire to shift the emphasis from attempting to combat drug crimes by reducing the supply of drugs to addressing the demand for drugs through the treatment of addiction. Drug courts use the criminal justice system to address addiction through an integrated set of social and legal services instead of solely relying upon sanctions through incarceration or probation. This report surveys a range of research conducted on drug courts to date. Its aim is to outline general findings on the workings and efficacy of drug courts nationwide and to highlight potential concerns and areas where more research is needed.

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