Drug Court first began in Dade County, Florida. The rise in drug-related crimes during the 1980’s created a revolving door of arrest, prosecution and release in the criminal justice system in Miami. Officials there decided it was time to create a new system for dealing with the drug problems they faced in the community.
After one year of investigation of criminal justice policy and treatment options throughout the country, Dade County officials, including then State Attorney Janet Reno, settled on a model of drug treatment with close direct judicial supervision.
The difference between Drug Court and the regular court system and typical treatment programs is simple. Defendants, called "clients," not only receive the typical treatment interventions of group therapy, education and counseling, but also must appear before the Drug Court Judge on a regular basis. These court appearances are crucial to the effectiveness of the Drug Court model. Each time a drug court client appears in court, their participation in treatment and urinalysis results are reviewed by the judge. If the reviews are favorable, the client receives praise for their efforts. If the report reflects a lack of treatment participation or the urinalysis testing reports drug use, the drug court judge responds with an appropriate court-ordered sanction ranging from increased treatment to short stays in jail.
The intention of drug court is the break that cycle between drugs and crime. The program seeks to reduce drug abuse and related criminal behavior, improve work and social functioning, and reduce the spread of substance abuse related disease. Drug court may also relieve backlogs in the court system and relieve the crowding of jails with addicts, making room for more serious and violent crimes.
Dade County’s success story has been repeated throughout the country. The Drug Court movement has grown nationally to more than 2,600 Drug Courts. There are variances among them, but all maintain the model of drug treatment with judicial supervision and consequences for actions - whether positive or negative. Drug courts are breaking the cycle throughout the country.