Drug courts are specialized courts or court calendars that incorporate intensive judicial supervision, treatment services, sanctions, and incentives to address the needs of drug defendants. A drug court team (composed of the judge, prosecutor, public defender, probation officer, and treatment providers) works in concert to ensure that defendants have the support of the justice system and treatment services to address their drug abuse problems.
The basic elements that define drug courts include the following ten components:
For comprehensive information regarding the components of drug courts, see Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components (Washington, DC: Office of Justice Programs, Drug Courts Program Office, 1997).
People who successfully complete Drug Court usually have their charges dismissed and are not sentenced. However, if the offender does not succeed in treatment, he or she is returned to the regular criminal process for adjudication and sentencing..
The term "problem-solving courts" refers to court interventions that focus on the underlying chronic behaviors of criminal defendants.
Generally, the problem-solving courts model involves a single judge devoted to a single type of case who uses pending criminal sanctions to compel the defendant’s compliance with treatment over a period of time. The judge works with a community team to develop a case plan for the defendant and to monitor the defendant’s compliance with the case plan. The case is regularly scheduled before the judge, so the judge can closely monitor compliance and progress. Criminal sanctions are imposed only if the defendant does not comply with the case plan.
The most widely known and implemented type of problem-solving court is the drug court. However, the principles of problem-solving courts have been applied to many different types of cases. One might find a variety of courts devoted to one specific issue or type of offense or offender, including DWI, mental health, truancy, tribal, domestic violence, Veterans, prostitution, etc.
Currently Nebraska operates Adult, Juvenile and Family Dependency Drug Courts, a DWI Court and a Young Adult Court.
The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) issued a resolution relating to problem-solving courts. CCJ and COSCA also issued a task force report on problem-solving courts.
Since inception in 1989, American University reports that more than 200,000 participants have participated in drug court programs. The Government Accounting Office in 1997 reported that 71% of all offenders entering drug courts since 1989 have successfully completed their program or are currently active in a program.
Colombia University's National Center on Addiction of Substance Abuse (CASA) concluded in a 2000 study that drug courts provide the most comprehensive and effective control of the drug-using offender's criminality and drug usage while under the court's jurisdiction. The CASA report concluded; drug courts provide closer, more comprehensive supervision and much more frequent drug testing and monitoring during the program than other forms of community supervision. More importantly, drug use and criminal behavior are substantially reduced while offenders are participating in drug court.
Nebraska’s Drug Courts typically require:
All noncompliance with the drug court program is met with immediate sanctions by the Judge, which may include terms of incarceration in response to violations.
One of the significant factors in drug courts is that the court applies appropriate incentives and sanctions to match the participants’ treatment progress. Generally, sanctions and incentives are within the judge’s discretion, but the judge will entertain recommendations from the drug court team members. Drug court judges match a meaningful sanction or incentive to a specific participant.
Graduated sanctions may include:
Incentives may include:
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals presented the following national data. The incarceration of drug abusing offenders costs between $20,000 and $50,000 per person, per year. The capital cost of building a prison cell can be as much as $80,000. As an alternative, a comprehensive drug court system typically costs less than $2,500 annually for each participant. Nebraska is currently in the process of conducting a cost/benefit analysis as part of a statewide evaluation of problem-solving courts.