Key Components of Drug Court

The early drug courts were planned to meet the specific needs of local law enforcement, courts and communities. However, many other jurisdictions used those as models and established similar goals in starting their own courts. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ (NADCP) Standards Committee developed a manual on drug courts which sets forth ten key elements of successful drug courts:

  1. Integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing. A team approach must be taken to stop drug abuse and related criminal activity. Courts can motivate offenders to enter treatment, but must work with treatment providers to ensure participants’ success. For instance, treatment providers report offenders’ treatment progress to courts in order to ensure collaborative use of sanctions and rewards.
  2. Use a non-adversarial approach in which prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants’ due process rights. Prosecution and defense attorneys must work together as a team and focus on offenders’ recovery rather than the merits of the case. Prosecutors are responsible for identifying drug court candidates, and defense attorneys are obligated to protect offenders’ rights and inform them about the drug court process.
  3. Identify eligible participants early for immediate referral to the program. Substance abuse problems may be easier to identify after offenders are arrested. When experiencing the crisis of arrest, offenders may be more open to pursuing treatment because the consequences of drug use are so obvious at that time.
  4. Provide access to a continuum of treatment and rehabilitation services. Only part of offenders’ treatment takes place in the courtroom or in formal treatment settings. Creating a therapeutic team ensures that secondary issues, such as health care, housing and unemployment are addressed. If these problems are ignored, successful substance abuse treatment will be compromised. Offenders need access to a full range of services as one size does not fit all.
  5. Monitor abstinence by frequent drug testing. Drug testing is the most reliable, objective way to detect recent drug use. A drug testing system ensures individual accountability and helps gouge participant’s progress and compliance.
  6. Coordinate court and treatment program responses to participants’ compliance or lack of compliance, including contingency contracts that involve participants in their own sanctions and incentives. Rewards and sanctions should promote ending drug use. Graduated sanctions are used in response to non-compliance with treatment. Rewards are given for negative drug tests and attending all drug court meetings and treatment sessions.
  7. Require ongoing judicial interaction with drug court participants. Judges lead the drug court team and link participants with treatment providers. Judicial supervision shows participants that someone in authority cares and increases the chances that participants will remain in th program.
  8. Monitor and evaluate achievement of program goals and program effectiveness. The goals and objectives of drug court programs should be measurable. Objective outcome data provide accountability to funding agencies and policy makers; positive outcomes increase the likelihood of continued funding and community support for programs.
  9. Promote effective drug court planning through interdisciplinary education of planning teams. Key drug court personnel, as well as those indirectly involved in the program, should continue to receive training and education. Continued education ensures that the drug court’s goals and policies are understood and provides opportunities for ongoing interaction between personnel from different agencies.
  10. Forge partnerships among drug courts, public agencies and community-based organizations. Drug courts create partnerships among organizations dedicated to rehabilitating substance abusing offenders. Multiple partnerships increase services available to participants during and after the program.

The Sixteen Juvenile Strategies

  1. Collaborative Planning - Engage all stakeholders in creating an interdisciplinary, coordinated, and systemic approach to working with youth and their families.
  2. Teamwork - Develop and maintain an interdisciplinary, nonadversarial work team.
  3. Clearly Defined Target Population and Eligibility Criteria - Define a target population and eligibility criteria that are aligned with the program’s goals and objectives.
  4. Judicial Involvement and Supervision - Schedule frequent judicial reviews and be sensitive to the effect that court proceedings can have on youth and their families.
  5. Monitoring and Evaluation - Establish a system for program monitoring and evaluation to maintain quality of service, assess program impact, and contribute to knowledge in the field.
  6. Community Partnerships - Build partnerships with community organizations to expand the range of opportunities available to youth and their families.
  7. Comprehensive Treatment Planning -Tailor interventions to the complex and varied needs of youth and their families.
  8. Developmentally Appropriate Services -Tailor treatment to the developmental needs of adolescents.
  9. Gender-Appropriate Services - Design treatment to address the unique needs of each gender.
  10. Cultural Competence - Create policies and procedures that are responsive to cultural differences and train personnel to be culturally competent.
  11. Focus on Strengths - Maintain a focus on the strengths of youth and their families during program planning and in every interaction between the court and those it serves.
  12. Family Engagement - Recognize and engage the family as a valued partner in all components of the program.
  13. Educational Linkages - Coordinate with the school system to ensure that each participant enrolls in and attends an educational program that is appropriate to his or her needs.
  14. Drug Testing - Design drug testing to be frequent, random, and observed. Document testing policies and procedures in writing.
  15. Goal-Oriented Incentives and Sanctions - Respond to compliance and noncompliance with incentives and sanctions that are designed to reinforce or modify the behavior of youth and their families.
  16. Confidentiality - Establish a confidentiality policy and procedures that guard the privacy of the youth while allowing the drug court team to access key information.