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FACT FILE: Drug court expansion

August 5, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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The use of drug courts as alternatives to the traditional justice system continues to increase since their inception 25 years ago. In 2014, the number of drug courts operating in the United States surpassed 3,000 with an estimated 127,000 individuals served, according to a report released this week by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP).

NADCP’s National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) survey, an overview of drug and other treatment courts, covers activity in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Drug court models then and now

Although the total number has now increased 24% in five years, not all types of drug courts are on the rise. Campus drug, family drug, federal district re-entry drug, juvenile drug, re-entry drug courts are on the decline, according to the report.


  • Big growth for veteran courts: Among the types of courts to see gains from 2009 to 2014, veterans treatment courts experienced the most dramatic growth, climbing from just 19 courts to 266.
  • Program completion rates: The average graduation rate in respondents’ drug courts was 59% in 2014. Graduation rates were roughly two-thirds higher than completion rates for probation and more than double those of similar programs for individuals on probation with severe substance use disorders.
  • Reducing recidivism: Based on analysis of previous multisite studies that meet defined scientific standards, adult drug courts have reduced recidivism by an average of 8% to 14%. DUI courts have reduced recidivism by an average of 12%.
  • Participation by race: Caucasians comprised 67% of participants in the respondents’ drug courts in 2014, followed by African-Americans (17%) and Hispanic individuals (10%). The representation of African-Americans and Hispanic individuals was lower than the representation for those groups in the arrestee, probation and incarcerated populations. This indicates a lack of access to drug courts as an alternative to the traditional justice system for African-Americans and Hispanics.
  • Lack of access: 44% of U.S. counties included in the research do not have adult drug courts, and 80% reported that they did not have a DUI, juvenile drug, family drug or veterans treatment court.

The full Painting the Current Picture report by NCDI is available on the NADCP website.