Drug courts emerged in the 1990s to address serious drug offending while improving offender outcomes and reducing incarceration costs. Heavily researched, drug courts are proven to reduce recidivism and save money.1Operating with fidelity to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ (NADCP) 10 key drug court components is imperative to ensuring optimal results and effectiveness.2
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (Authority) researchers examined drug courts funded by Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI) in five counties. Data to measure the 10 key components was collected after 18 months of program implementation (August 2012 to July 2013). ARI applies evidence-based, data-driven, and result-oriented strategies to curb prison overcrowding and enhance public safety. Since 2010, the Authority has administered grant funding for ARI and offered research, evaluation, and technical assistance to the program. In exchange for grant funding, jurisdictions agree to implement an evidence-based prison-diversion program, such as drug courts, and reduce by 25 percent the number of non-violent offenders sentenced to prison from a target population.
All but one of the 10 key components were examined for fidelity at drug courts in five counties—Fulton, Jersey, Knox, Madison, and Winnebago. They included:
- Key Component #1: Drug court integrates drug treatment with case processing.
- Key Component #3: The drug court identifies eligible participants early and promptly places them in the program.
- Key Component #4: The drug court facilitates access to a continuum of alcohol, drug, and other related treatments and rehabilitation.
- Key Component #5: There is frequent drug testing to measure abstinence.
- Key Component #6: There is a coordinated strategy and frequent communication between the court team and treatment providers to respond to client compliance.
- Key Component #7: There is ongoing judicial interaction with participants, including regular status hearings.
- Key Component #8: There is monitoring and evaluation of program goals and effectiveness.
- Key Component #9: There is ongoing interdisciplinary education and training for key personnel.
- Key Component #10: Partnerships exist between the drug court, public agencies, and community based organizations.
The five court programs examined maintained fidelity to most key components of the drug court model. Fidelity was seen across counties in the areas of program referrals and intake process (Key Component #3), referrals to services (Key Component #4), monitoring compliance (Key Component #5), judicial interaction (Key Component #7), and evaluation (key Component #8).
Cross discipline partnership is also a key component of drug courts (Key Component #10) as is interdisciplinary education and training for key personnel (Key Component #9); however, at least one required team member was missing from regular staffing meetings to discuss cases at all five courts and drug court team members of four programs were not formally trained (Figure).
Illinois drug court program fidelity to key components by county
|County program||Key component|
Key components:1 = Case planning and program phases
3 = Program referrals and intake process
4 = Referrals to services
5 = Monitoring compliance
6 = Sanctions and incentives
7 = Judicial interaction
8 = Evaluation
9 = Drug court team training
10 = Collaboration, team meetings
Implications for policy and practice
Include all stakeholders on the drug court team
The current study revealed that several key team members were missing from staff meetings at all five courts (Key Component #10). Drug court teams must include police, probation, prosecution, and defense representatives, judges, and treatment providers for the greatest impact on recidivism. Inclusion of the judges, both attorneys, treatment providers, program coordinators, and probation officers at staffing meetings had a 50 percent reduction in recidivism than programs that did not include those team members.3
All but one drug court did not have law enforcement representations at their team meetings. Research has shown that drug courts that include police had an additional 36 percent reduction in costs, an 87 percent reduction in client recidivism, and higher graduation rates compared to those that did not.4
Connect participants to a variety of comprehensive services
While all the drug courts provided mental health, education, and employment services, other comprehensive services to ensure favorable drug court participant outcomes were lacking at some courts (Key Component #4). Also needed are services to address domestic violence, offer anger management and coping skills, provide health and dental services, and assist with housing, transportation, and child custody issues. Drug courts offering relapse prevention, gender-specific services, mental health treatment, parenting classes, family counseling, anger management classes, health and dental services, and residential care can expect better program outcomes.
Strategically use drug testing
Drug testing must meet the minimum standards shown to be effective (Key Component #5). The drug courts did adhere to the tenet of using random drug testing. Some, but not all, used evening and weekend compliance tests and listened to feedback from treatment providers. Drug testing two to three times per week on a truly random basis generates the greatest impact, including test results within 48 hours and a requirement of 90-days clean before graduation. Relapse is a part of recovery and should be dealt with as an opportunity to learn and to plan for future situations.
Follow best practices for sanctions and incentives
Sanctions should include a range of options and be clearly articulated and appropriately used (Key Component #6). While all drug courts examined offered sanctions for failure to comply with drug court rules, the sanctions varied. According to drug court best practice standards, and for optimal results, policies on incentives and sanctions should be available in writing and communicated to participants in advance of program participation. Additionally, programs should use a range of sanctions, program administrators should maintain a reasonable degree of discretion, and costly jail sanctions should be imposed judiciously and sparingly.
The best drug court programs offer a stick (punishment) and a carrot (incentives). Drug court programs in this study did a good job offering a variety of incentives, including praise, gift cards, and lessened restrictions. A range of creative incentives is needed to offer positive reinforcement of good behaviors.
Enhance training protocols
All new and continuing drug court team members need interdisciplinary and specialized training (Key Component #9). Researchers found only one program offered such training. Research shows team member training results in higher graduation rates and reduced costs.
Use research to guide drug court operations
Continual data collection and assessment is important for program implementation and refinement (Key Component #8). All five drug courts were collecting data on their programs because of the ARI structure in place; however, the extent to which the data was used to make program enhancements or checked for accuracy is unknown. Research has shown drug court programs that review and use data to modify operations can reduce recidivism and costs.
- Bhati, A. S., Roman, J. K., & Chalfin, A. (2008). To treat or not to treat: Evidence on the prospects of expanding treatment to drug-involved offenders. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.; Marlowe, D. B. (2010). Research update on adult drug courts. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Drug Court Professionals.; Mitchell, O., Wilson, D., Eggers, A., & MacKenzie., D. (2012). Drug courts’ effects on criminal offending for juveniles and adults. Oslo, Norway: The Campbell Collaboration. ↩
- National Association of Drug Court Professionals. (2004). Defining drug courts: The key components. Alexandria, VA: author.; National Association of Drug Court Professionals. (2013). Adult drug court best practice standards, Volume I. Alexandria, VA: author.; National Association of Drug Court Professionals (2015). Adult drug court best practice standards: Volume II. Alexandria, VA: author. ↩
- Carey, S.M., Mackin, J.R., & Finigan, M. W. (2012) What works? The ten key components of drug court: Research-based best practices. Drug Court Review, 8(1), 6-41. ↩
- Carey, S. M., Finigan, M. W., & Pukstas, K. (2008). Exploring the key components of drug courts: A comparative study of 18 adult drug courts on practices, outcomes and costs. Portland, OR: NPC Research.; Carey, S.M., Mackin, J.R., & Finigan, M. W. (2012) What works? The ten key components of drug court: Research-based best practices. Drug Court Review, 8(1), 6-41. ↩