Law Enforcement Officers Matter to Drug Courts

image: justice scale and gavelSince 1994, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) has worked diligently to create and enhance drug courts, of which there are now over 2,600 operating in the United States. Drug courts function by blending accountability with treatment services—along with an effective, judge-monitored court docket—to strike the proper balance between the need to protect the community and the need to improve public health. An offender’s stay in drug court typically lasts 12–18 months. Throughout this time they are afforded an intensive regimen of drug treatment, regularly and randomly tested for drug use, and are required to appear frequently in court for the judge to review their progress. Participants are rewarded for doing well and sanctioned for not living up to their obligations.

This drug court model has evolved to include other problem-solving courts such as DWI courts, veterans’ treatment courts, reentry courts, and mental health courts, among others. More programs are started every year, but each new court program doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel. Training and technical assistance on drug court operations are conducted each year through the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI), and the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC). Created by NADCP in 1997, NDCI has emerged as the preeminent source of cutting-edge training and technical assistance to the drug court field. More than 36,000 court professionals have been trained by NDCI. NCDC was similarly established in 2007, and focuses on eliminating hardcore and repeat drunk driving through the expansion of DWI Court programs nationwide.

While many criminal justice system professionals have a basic familiarity with these problem-solving courts, they may not realize that law enforcement involvement is critical to the success of drug courts and that the courts can be the ultimate crime prevention tool for today’s law enforcement chief executive. To that end, NDCI has formed a National Law Enforcement Executives Taskforce that is developing a curriculum to provide training to law enforcement officers assigned to work in drug courts, or who may be planning to become a member of a drug court team. When completed, this curriculum will join the seven other role-based professional training courses offered by NDCI as part of their Drug Court Practitioner Training Series.

Having a law enforcement officer on the drug court team often results in greater success for offenders and substantial benefits for the community through a reduction in recidivism as well as a cost savings over traditional sanctions. A report released by NPC Research in March 2008 studied 18 drug courts and concluded that “having a member from law enforcement on the team was associated with higher graduation rates—57 percent compared to 46 percent for those that did not have law enforcement on the team—and significantly greater improvement in outcome costs.”1 The report went on to say: “Including law enforcement on the drug court team is practiced more rarely but is clearly associated with more positive outcomes. Working on the street, law enforcement can contribute a unique perspective to the drug court team. Law enforcement can improve referrals to the program and drug court team, and go into the community for further information gathering and monitoring of participants.”

Many law enforcement executives understand the benefits of working with drug courts, but need technical assistance in determining the best strategy for their agency. Investing in drug courts can reap significant benefits for the following reasons:

  • Nationwide, a number of drug court graduates remain arrest-free years after leaving the program.
  • The cost savings of drug courts are due in part to reduced prison costs, reduced revolving-door arrests and trials, and reduced victimization.
  • The scientific community has concluded that drug courts significantly reduce drug abuse and crime and do so at far less expense than any other justice strategy.

Through NDCI, your agency can learn more about the work of the task force, the role of law enforcement in drug courts, and about problem-solving courts in general. Visit the NDCI website at To read the NPC research study, go to, or contact Cynthia Herriott at or 571.384.1865.


Cynthia Herriott is Deputy Director of the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) located in Alexandria, Virginia. NDCI is funded by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention (OJJDP), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Department of Justice and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Herriott is a former police patrol Lieutenant and has over 10 years of experience in project review and research. She holds a Master of Science Degree and is a certified trainer. 


1Shannon M. Carey, Michael W, Finigan, and Kimberly Pukstas. 2008. Exploring the Key Components of Drug Courts: A Comparative Study of 18 Adult Drug Courts on Practices, Outcomes and Costs. Executive Summary. NPC Research.


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