Drug Courts Overview

NOTE: The Substance Use Disorder Services Divisions are currently updating these web pages in an effort to enhance and streamline the information available through this website. We are currently under construction and therefore all content and/or links may not be currently available.


California's first adult drug court began in Alameda County in 1991. In 1995, California's first juvenile offender drug court began in Tulare County. Throughout, the state is committed to the concept  that alcohol and drug services and treatment are preferable to incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders.
The goals of drug court programs are to:

  • reduce drug usage and recidivism;
  • provide court supervised treatment;
  • integrate drug treatment with other rehabilitation services to promote long-term recovery and reduce social costs;
  • reduce the number of children in the Child Welfare System; and
  • access federal and state support for local drug courts.

Common Types of Drug Courts 

Across the state, local agencies have developed adult, juvenile, and dependency drug courts, which generally fall into one of four models.

  • Pre-plea models afford drug possession offenders a stay of prosecution if they participate in court-supervised treatment. Upon successful completion of the drug court program, the participant is discharged without a criminal record. However, failure to complete the program leads to the filing of charges and adjudication.
  • Post-plea models require a defendant to enter a guilty plea before entering treatment. Treatment is from nine months to three years. Upon successful completion of the drug court program, the criminal charges are dismissed. However, failure to complete the program leads to the sentencing phase of adjudication.
  • Post-adjudication models allow repeat drug offenders to enter treatment after their conviction, but prior to serving their sentence. Successful completion of the drug court program allows these offenders to serve their sentence in treatment instead of custody. Failure to complete the program leads directly to the activation of their sentence.
  • Civil models allow individuals involved in civil actions (usually child custody) to enter treatment as a condition of retaining or regaining custody of their child(ren). Failure to complete the program leads to permanent loss of custody.


Dependency Drug Court focuses on cases involving parental rights which an adult is the party litigant, which includes a substance abuse charge against a parent. The goal is to provide the parent(s) with the necessary parenting skills and treatment for their substance abuse to allow children to remain safely in their care and to help decrease the number of children placed in foster care.

Adult Drug Courts focus on adult offenders. Participants are convicted felons or misdemeanants. The primary purpose of adult drug court is to provide access to treatment for substance-abusing offenders while minimizing the use of incarceration by providing structure by linking supervision and treatment with ongoing judicial oversight and team management. The majority of drug courts include initial intensive treatment services with ongoing monitoring and continuing care for 12 months or more.

Juvenile Drug Courts focus on delinquency matters that involve substance-using juveniles by providing immediate and intensive intervention with continuous court supervision. This includes requiring both the juvenile and the family to participate in treatment, submit to frequent drug testing, appear regularly at frequent court status hearings, and comply with other court conditions geared toward accountability, rehabilitation, long-term sobriety, and cessation of criminal activity.

Target Populations

Drug courts are diverse and serve various populations such as adults, juveniles, repeat drug offenders, multiple offenders, parents of children in the child welfare system, and drug probation violators. Generally, drug court participants have abused alcohol and other drugs for 10 years or more and received little or no substance abuse treatment.

California's Drug Courts 

According to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) data base, as of December 2006, there were 203 drug courts within the 58 counties of the state. For additional information on AOC, refer to the Administrative Office of the Courts website.

Program Evaluation 

There is a growing body of information (papers, articles, reports) about the effects of drug courts and their impact on drug offenders and communities. The department’s contributions include the March 2002 Drug Court Partnership Final Report to the Legislature, and the March 2005, Comprehensive Drug Court Implementation Final Report to the Legislature. These reports are available on this website.

Please note:

Effective with the passage of the 2013-2014 Budget Act and associated legislation, the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP) no longer exists as of July 1, 2013. All ADP programs and staff, except the Office of Problem Gambling, transferred to the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS).

Some web content available through links below may reference ADP and/or direct you to content from the former ADP website. DHCS is currently working to update all web content.​

Last modified date: 3/23/2021 4:33 AM