May | June 2020

Drug Courts: Empowering Youth and Families To Live Drug- and Crime-Free Lives

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 20 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the past year. An estimated 60 to 80 percent of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases involve substance use by a parent or guardian. In addition to its toll on the lives of youth and families, addiction to alcohol and drugs disrupts public safety and increases the burden on the justice and child welfare systems.

When established protocols are followed, drug courts offer a promising model for leading youth and families with substance use disorders out of the justice and child welfare systems and into lives of recovery and stability. These courts enforce accountability while providing access to treatment and a range of social services. Since 2007, OJJDP has provided $143 million to support drug courts through three programs:

  • The Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program provides intensive supervision and treatment to drug-involved juvenile offenders.
  • The Family Drug Court Program serves parents who require treatment for a substance use disorder and who are involved with the child welfare system because of child abuse or neglect.
  • Tribal Juvenile Healing to Wellness Courts help tribes respond to the substance use challenges of court-involved youth in Indian country.

Effective drug courts collaborate closely with community corrections, treatment providers, child welfare, schools, and social service agencies.  These courts use comprehensive risk and needs assessments and evidence-based treatment. They also monitor treatment participation and require regular drug testing and court appearances.

When juvenile drug treatment courts use evidence-based treatments and engage families in the rehabilitation of youth, reductions in delinquency and substance abuse have been as high as 15 to 40 percent. In addition, studies show that family reunification rates in family drug courts are 20 to 40 percent higher than in other family reunification programs.

These and other successes point to the critical role drug court programs can play in improving the safety, health, and well-being of our communities. These programs empower youth and families to move forward with their lives, free of addiction and drug-related crime. We at OJJDP are honored to support all our partners in this essential work.