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How to Go to Rehab Instead of Jail

How to Go to Rehab Instead of Jail

Drug court

If you’ve been arrested for a non-violent, drug-related crime – such as a DUI (driving under the influence) – you won’t necessarily go to jail.

You may be able to go to a drug court following your arrest, where you may qualify for an addiction treatment program as an alternative to jail time.

There are more than 3,000 drug courts across the United States, and each one aims to help those in the criminal justice system who struggle with substance addiction.1

A recovery program will provide you with the addiction services you need in order to rectify your problematic substance abuse and reduce your risk of relapse.

What Is a Drug Court?

A drug court is a specialized court program that serves the following individuals1:

  1. Juvenile offenders with drug or alcohol dependence.
  2. Adult criminal offenders and defendants.
  3. Parents at-risk of losing child custody.

Drug courts are designed to reduce the risk of relapse and the return to criminal behavior (also known as recidivism). These programs provide offenders with substance abuse issues the opportunity to get clean and start on the path to a healthy and happy life.

Who Operates Drug Courts?

Drug courts employ a wide range of individuals who all work together to manage the drug court program. Some of the drug court team members include1:

  • Social workers.
  • Prosecutors.
  • Defense attorneys.
  • Judges.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Addiction professionals.

This team of professionals works together to make sure there is follow-up care and that no one falls through the cracks.

What Services Do Drug Courts Offer?

Most drug courts tend to utilize the same program model that includes the following features and services1:
Woman being assessed

  • A thorough assessment of individual needs and risks.
  • Drug testing and supervision.
  • Interaction with a multidisciplinary judiciary team.
  • Incentives for positive and drug-free behaviors.
  • Addiction treatment services.

Drug court program services may vary a bit, depending on the population they are addressing.

Adult vs. Juvenile Drug Courts

Adult programs consist of relapse and recidivism prevention services through a variety of interventions. While juvenile programs offer many of the same services, they tend to additionally provide family therapy and drug education.2

Juvenile programs have a variety of goals in order to help youth offenders rectify problematic patterns and avoid criminal and drug-using behaviors in the future2:

  1. To improve functioning.
  2. To uncover underlying issues that may influence drug use.
  3. To build coping skills.
  4. To teach the family how to provide guidance and structure.
  5. To foster accountability.

Family Drug Courts

Family drug courts address child welfare cases in which a parent is facing allegations of child abuse or neglect due to drug or alcohol abuse. Family drug courts aim to aid the parent in the following ways2:

  1. To promote self-sufficiency on a personal, financial, and emotional level.
  2. To develop and improve coping strategies.
  3. To improve parenting skills.
  4. To provide services to their children.

Do Drug Courts Work?

There have been numerous studies on the effectiveness of drug court programs in preventing continued drug use and further criminal offenses.

1. Oregon

One such study in Portland, Oregon revealed that the drug court programs decreased the return to criminal behavior in participating offenders for up to 14 years after initiation of the program – compared to the drug-related offenders who did not partake in the intervention.3

2. Wisconsin

A Wisconsin database search revealed further supporting evidence in the efficacy of drug court programs. Drug court participants typically refrained from committing crimes for longer periods of time compared to non-participants.

These drug court programs were found to be especially beneficial for4:

  1. Minorities.
  2. Women.
  3. Older individuals.
  4. Serious criminal offenders.

3. Across the U.S.

One meta-analytic research review analyzed the following range of drug courts not limited to any particular U.S. location5:

  • 28 DWI drug courts.
  • 34 juvenile drug courts.
  • 92 adult drug courts.

The research revealed that drug court programs were found to decrease future criminal behaviors from 50% to 38% – for up to 3 years after completion of the program.

Adult drug courts showed the most success compared to both juvenile and DWI drug courts. The largest reductions in recidivism were especially evident in adult drug court programs that:

  1. Only enrolled non-violent offenders.
  2. Had high completion rates.

Drug Courts Help People Complete Treatment and Avoid Crime

Other studies have shown some stark differences between individuals who did not attend drug court programs and those who did attend.

WITHOUT the help of drug court programs6:

  • An estimated 25% of individuals in this population never attend a single session of an addiction recovery program. And of those individuals who do attend sessions, many drop out before they’ve even completed the recovery program.
  • Of chronic substance users released from prison:
    • Between 85% and 95% resume drug use.
    • Between 60% and 80% commit a new crime.

WITH the help of drug court programs, however6:

  • Of the criminals suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol who enrolled in a drug court program, about 70% completed the program.
  • Of individuals who completed the drug court program, about 75% avoid re-offenses.

Why Are Drug Courts and Rehab Programs More Successful Than Jail?

Guidance from professionals
Drug courts provide offenders with a highly-structured environment that promotes cooperation and completion of the program. Those who have a high risk of failing out of other services without support may especially benefit from drug court programs.

Typically, people who commit drug-related crimes require a comprehensive program to help decrease recurring offenses and substance abuse. Without supervision by a judge and other criminal justice employees, many offenders do not attend treatment regularly – or even at all, in some cases. This is why drug court programs are so vital to the recovery of criminals suffering from a substance addiction.

Drug court programs have been found to6:

  1. Improve employment.
  2. Improve family functioning.
  3. Decrease problematic drug use.

These programs are also not just advantageous for first-time offenders – but they also show enhanced benefits for those with more severe substance addictions and criminal records.6 Many typical prisons do not provide those afflicted with addictions the proper treatment and care for sustaining sobriety once their prison sentence has ended.

Different Types of Drug Courts

Drug courts programs are not one-size-fits-all. There are numerous types of drug courts that each cater to different populations. Some of these varied types of drug courts include7:

  • Adult.
  • Juvenile.
  • Family.
  • Tribal.
  • DWI or DUI.

  • Campus.
  • Re-entry.
  • Federal re-entry.
  • Veterans.
  • Co-occurring disorders.

These drug courts specialize in addressing the needs of specific populations in order to promote healing, wellness, independence, and a drug-free future.

Services Differ Among Drug Courts

Drug court program eligibility and services offered may vary across the country and may differ geographically by county. Since program resources vary from county to county, the number of drug courts available in your region may heavily depend on where you live. So while Alabama, for example, has 101 drug courts available, West Virginia only has 24.6

Other factors that can influence drug court availability and experience may include8-11:

  • The type of drug court model available (adult, DWI, juvenile, or family).
  • Type of offense (most drug courts won’t accept violent criminals).
  • Victim consent.
  • Acknowledgment of drug addiction.
  • Previous violation of substance-related probation.

  • Incarceration risk.
  • Risk of recidivism.
  • Drug test results.
  • Quality of monitoring, supervision, and treatment.
  • Presence of therapeutic alliance.
  • Previous participation in a drug court program.

How Many Drug Courts Are There?

The numbers of different types of drug courts aren’t evenly distributed throughout the United States. As of June 2014, the number of drug courts available by drug court type were as follows12:

  • Adult drug courts: 1,538
  • Juvenile drug courts: 433
  • Family drug courts: 303
  • Tribal drug courts: 119
  • Designated DUI courts: 242

  • Campus drug courts: 6
  • Reentry drug courts: 36
  • Federal reentry drug courts: 29
  • Veterans drug courts: 220
  • Co-occurring disorder courts: 36

Learn More and Find a Program

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug problem, don’t hesitate to call our helpline at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers?. We’d love to help you learn more about drug court programs or to help you find a rehab that’s best for you.


  1. Drug courts. (2016). National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  2. Drug courts. (2016). Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
  3. Finigan, M. W., Carey, S. M., Cox, A. (2007). Impact of a mature drug court over 10 years of operation: recidivism and costs. National Criminal Justice System Abstract.
  4. Brown, R. (2011). Drug court effectiveness: a matched cohort study in the Dane County drug treatment court. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 50(4), 191-201.
  5. Mitchell, O., Wilson, D. B., Eggers, A., Mackenzie, D. L. (2012). Assessing the effectiveness of drug courts on recidivism: A meta-analytic review of traditional and non-traditional drug courts. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(1), 60-71.
  6. Huddleston, W. (2009). Drug courts are the most sensible and proven alternative to incarceration. Los Angeles Daily Journal.
  7. Types of drug courts. (n.d.). National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
  8. What are drug courts? (n.d.). National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
  9. Eligibility & processes. (2016). Kentucky Court of Justice.
  10. Idaho adult drug court standards & guidelines for effectiveness and evaluation. (2011). Idaho.gov.
  11. Drug court program: program information. (2005). City of Wichita Municipal Court: Drug Court Program.
  12. How many drug courts are there? (2014). National Drug Court Resource Center.

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