Expand and Enhance Speciality Courts

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Introductory Paragraph

In the late 1980s alternatives such as drug courts emerged as an innovative approach when professionals recognized the importance of treating substance use and mental health to prevent relapse and recidivism. Drug courts aim to reduce drug use relapse and criminal recidivism through a variety of services. These services include risk and needs assessment, judicial interaction, monitoring and supervision, graduated sanctions and incentives, treatment, and various rehabilitation services.  As of today, there are more than 3,000 drug courts across the United States. [1]   Specialty courts consist of Veteran, DUI/DWI, Mental health, Juvenile, Family Drug Treatment Courts, Tribal, Opioid and Re-entry.   

Overall, the drug court approach intends to reduce time in the criminal just system and provide treatment to individuals instead of punishment
Additional information regarding expanding Improving Recovery Support for People in the Criminal Justice System can be found here.  [2] 


Key Information

Drug courts are specialized courts targeting those charged with or convicted of a crime.  Although drug courts vary in target populations and resources, programs are generally managed by a multidisciplinary team including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community corrections officers, social workers, and treatment service professionals. Support from those representing law enforcement, the family, and the community is encouraged through participation in hearings, programming, and events such as graduation.[3] 

There are several types of treatment courts including:

DWI/DUI-  Specialized and comprehensive court programs that provide individual treatment, supervision and accountability for repeat DWI offenders. These specialty courts follow the well-established drug court model and are based on the premise that impaired driving can be prevented if the underlying causes, such as substance use and mental health disorders, are identified and addressed.[4]

Mental Health Treatment Courts-Mental health courts for adults and juveniles work with people with mental illnesses who are involved in the justice system. These courts connect people to effective treatment and support after they undergo screening and assessments.[5] 

Juvenile- Juvenile drug treatment courts (JDTC) are designed for youth with substance use disorders who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Juvenile mental health courts focus on treatment and rehabilitation, and help divert youth from detention facilities to common-based services. Juvenile mental health courts also address issues such as involving families and schools in treatment. [6]

Family Drug Treatment Courts- FTDCs, alternatively known as dependency drug courts or family drug courts, use a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to serve families who require substance use disorder treatment and who are involved with the child welfare system.[7]

Tribal- A Tribal Healing to Wellness Court, like a state drug court, integrates substance abuse treatment with the criminal justice system to provide substance-abusing offenders judicially supervised treatment and transitional services using intense supervision, sanctions and incentives, and drug testing in a non-punitive setting. [8]

Opioid Intervention Courts-The Opioid Intervention Court is an intensive intervention for people at risk of overdose. They are designed to address the treatment needs for people with an opiate abuse history and to prevent them from using while their case proceeds through the criminal courts.[9]

Re-entry-Reentry drug courts are courts that begin when a person enters a jail-based treatment program. The program involves in regular judicial monitoring and supported through recovery, and ultimately prepared for reentry into the community.[10]

Participants who successfully complete the drug court program can have their underlying criminal offenses dismissed or expunged. If a participant fails to complete the program, their case will be processed as it normally would in the traditional criminal justice system.[11]

Drug court programs often include:


  • Participation over a series of months or years to establish and maintain long-term recovery strategies
  • Frequent and random drug tests
  • Clinical treatment for substance use disorders
  • Individualized case management services, connecting participants to employment opportunities, community service, pro-social activities, and education
  • Required frequent appearances in court
  • Rewards for maintaining treatment plans and sanctions for failure to meet obligations
  • Support and encouragement from the drug court team

Relevant Research

Do Drug Courts Work?[12]
Impact of Drug Courts[13]
Adult Drug Court- Research to Practice[14]
Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE)[15]
Minnesota Evaluation of DWI Courts[16]
Re-Entry Drug Courts Research[17]


Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

Adult Drug Treatment court Grants[18]
Veterans Treatment Program Grant[19]
Adult Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program[20]


Available Tools and Resources

National Drug Court Resource Center- Resources by Court Type  incluidng best practices[21]
National Drug Court Resource Center- Drug Court Review a peer reviewed journal with information and resources to bridge gaps.[22]
Seven Program Design Features: Adult Drug Court Principles, Research, and Practice[23]
National Court Drug Institute-Technical Assistance for Adult Drug Courts[24]
Adult Drug Courts and Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Dependence[25]
Justice for Vets-Key Components for Veterans Treatment Court[26]
Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts The Key Components[27]
Tribal Healing to Wellness Court- Policies & Procedures[28]
Mental Health Treatment Court Locator[29]
Ten Essential Elements of Opioid Intervention Courts [30]
Re-entry Courts[31]

Promising Practices

Adult National Drug Court Best Practice Standards[32] Adult Drug Court best practice standards provides evidence-based practice standards set forth by subject matter experts, researchers, and policy makers. 
Family Treatment Court Best Practices[33] Provides shared elements required in quality practice
New York State Essential Elements of Opioid Courts[34]
Drug Treatment Court- Opioid Overdose Prevention Framework[35]
Beltrami County DWI Court[36]
Cumberland County Opioid Intervention Court[37]

Buffalo Opioid Intervention Court[38]
Nebraska Re-Entry Court Best Practices[39]




  1. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/238527.pdf
  2. http://ifi-wikis.com/IFI-OpioidCrisis/Improve_Recovery_Support_for_People_in_the_Criminal_Justice_System
  3.  https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/238527.pdf
  4. https://www.dwicourts.org/whatsatstake/
  5. https://www.samhsa.gov/gains-center/treatment-court-locators
  6. https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/programs/juvenile-drug-treatment-court-guidelines
  7. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/treatment/drug-courts/index.html
  8. https://nicic.gov/tribal-healing-wellness-courts-policies-and-procedures-guide
  9. https://www.courtinnovation.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2019-07/report_the10essentialelements_07092019.pdf
  10. http://www.reentrycourtsolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Reentrypdf1.pdf
  11. https://ndcrc.org/what-are-drug-courts/
  12.  https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/do-drug-courts-work-findings-drug-court-research#:~:text=Impact%20of%20Drug%20Courts%20on%20Recidivism%20and%20Cost&text=In%20an%20unprecedented%20longitudinal%20study,arrests)%20and%20significantly%20lower%20costs
  13. https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/do-drug-courts-work-findings-drug-court-research
  14. https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/adult-drug-court-research-practice-r2p-initiative
  15. https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/nijs-multisite-adult-drug-court-evaluation
  16. https://www.dwicourts.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/MN_DWI_All_Site_Summary_August_2014_FINAL_FOR_OTS.pdf
  17. https://ndcrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Reentry_Court_Multisite_Evaluation_2017.pdf
  18. https://bja.ojp.gov/program/adult-drug-court-grant-program/overview
  19. https://bja.ojp.gov/program/veterans-treatment-court-grant-program/overview
  20. https://ndcrc.org/solicitations/
  21. https://ndcrc.org/resources-by-court-type/
  22. https://ndcrc.org/drug-court-review/
  23. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/248701.pdf
  24. https://www.ndci.org/resource/training/ta/
  25. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma14-4852.pdf
  26. https://justiceforvets.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-Ten-Key-Components-of-Veterans-Treatment-Courts.pdf
  27. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/bja/188154.pdf
  28. https://nicic.gov/tribal-healing-wellness-courts-policies-and-procedures-guide
  29. https://www.samhsa.gov/gains-center/treatment-court-locators
  30. https://www.courtinnovation.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2019-07/report_the10essentialelements_07092019.pdf
  31. https://www.courtinnovation.org/sites/default/files/documents/Reentry_Courts.pdf
  32. https://ndcrc.org/best-practice-resources/
  33. https://www.nadcp.org/standards/family-treatment-court-best-practice-standards/
  34. https://ndcrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/NY_State_Unified_Court_System_Essential_Elements_of_Opioid_Courts.pdf
  35. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__zaI4LULJU
  36. https://npcresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/Beltrami-Co-DWI-Court-Process-Outcome-and-Cost-Evaluation-FINAL-FOR-OTS.pdf
  37. https://www.ccpa.net/4698/Opioid-Intervention-Court
  38. http://tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Day2-02-Buffalo-OIC.pdf
  39. https://ndcrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Nebraska_Re-Entry_Court_Best_Practice_Standards.pdf