Drug Courts: Working Since 1989
Drug courts burst onto the scene when the Eleventh Judicial District of Florida created the Miami-Dade County Drug Court in 1989. Since its inception, “thousands of people have taken this chance …. and have succeeded.” Drug courts primarily function as a pretrial diversion or probation program that allows “eligible drug-addicted persons” to participate in a supervised treatment program “in lieu of traditional justice system case processing.” Failure to comply with the conditions of the drug court program will result in sanctions, possibly revocation of supervision. The National Institute for Justice (NIJ) has recognized that drug courts are an effective alternative to incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders with addiction issues. Indeed, studies have quantified the positive impact of drug courts across the country, and specifically found that drug court participants were less likely to recidivate, compared to “comparable offenders,” and that two-thirds of those who participate in drug court complete the treatment program.
In Tennessee, there are currently 45 drug courts that serve 78 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. In fiscal years 2014-2016, these drug courts served 1,491 participants with a graduation rate of 50.8%. 1,204 of the participants gained full time employment, and 1,054 went from being dependent on some degree of living assistance to being independent. Drug court programs have experienced overwhelming success in the prevention of re-offenses and the treatment of drug addiction across the country, specifically in Tennessee. More drug court programs are needed, particularly in light of the widespread opioid epidemic. It is my hope that the drug court program eventually expands into the 17 Tennessee counties where no such program exists—as every Tennessean deserves the public safety and public health benefits that the program provides.