Drug Courts


"Those offenders with histories of substance abuse or mental illness present a unique challenge and innovative approaches must be considered, such as Drug Courts and Family Courts, to reduce offender recidivism and to promote public safety."

Charles E. Jones (Former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court) from "A Strategic Agenda for Arizona's Courts 2002-2005"

A drug court is a special court given the responsibility to handle cases involving substance-abusing offenders through comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services and immediate sanctions and incentives.

Drug courts offer a comprehensive, supportive, and therapeutic approach as an alternative to traditional methods of prosecuting cases involving offenders who are charged with substance abuse. This comprehensive approach offers the participant an extensive treatment program that involves a collaboration of judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, case managers and treatment providers. The judge both leads and works as a member of this team. A non-adversarial approach is used to encourage and promote substance-free behavior.

The primary goal of drug courts is to put a stop to substance abuse and related criminal activity. Drug courts are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals.

How Does a Drug Court Work?

Within a cooperative courtroom environment, a judge heads a team of court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse experts, and treatment professionals all working in unison to support and monitor a participant's progress towards recovery. The team discusses the participant's progress and/or any difficulties that have arisen since his/her last appearance. All team members are then given the opportunity to provide input and make recommendations to the judge on any action that might be considered in court.

Following the team meeting, the team members attend open court. In turn, each participant presents him/herself to the bench, and discusses individual progress or any other relevant issues that have arisen since the last court hearing, directly with the judge. This is also an opportunity for family members to discuss any issues that have arisen. Drug Court strongly encourages parental and family input, as this may be the best gauge of compliance at home.

In exchange for successful completion of the program, the court may dismiss the original charge, reduce or set aside a sentence, offer some lesser penalty, or offer a combination of these.

Participation in a drug court program is strictly voluntary.

Qualifications & Eligibility 

“Drug court programs afford courts the opportunity to look beyond the criminal act that brings an individual into contact with the court system and to consider the larger context of his or her life — as well as the future of that individual in the community — rather than having to resort to unproductive incarceration.”

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Spoken at the San Francisco Drug Court Graduation, December 2002
Drug Court is a voluntary program available to defendants who meet the eligibility requirements.

A participant must enter a plea and begin the Drug Court program within fourteen days of his or her arrest. Each participant must complete a program for no less than one year. The program incorporates regular court appearances, intensive treatment, education, counseling, drug screening, and payment of all required fees.

Additional qualifications include:

  • The participant must be charged with a probation eligible offense.
  • The participant does not have any prior felony convictions for a violent crime or sexual offense.
  • The participant does not have a pending felony charge.
  • The participant is a legal resident.
  • The participant is willing to participate in all aspects of the Drug Court Program.

Upon successful completion of all requirements of the Drug Court program, the charges are dismissed or reduced.

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