Court-Ordered Rehab for Addiction Treatment

3 min read · 11 sections
What you will learn:
What is court-ordered rehab?
Eligibility for court-ordered rehab
Who pays for court-ordered rehab?

There are many reasons why someone might find themselves in a court-ordered rehab program. Often, those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD)—both medical conditions defined by the uncontrollable use of alcohol or other substances despite negative consequences—do not seek treatment on their own. Many who develop a SUD or dependency initially believe they can stop using substances without treatment and try to do so without help.1 While some are successful, this approach typically doesn’t yield long-term sobriety.1

Individuals with a SUD or AUD sometimes find themselves in legal trouble, which can lead to court-ordered treatment or court-mandated therapy through the criminal justice system.

What Is Court-Ordered Rehab?

In some cases—often when drug or alcohol abuse factored into the individual’s illegal actions—a judge mandates participation in a rehab treatment program as part of a court ruling.2 This may be given in place of jail time, or it may be a condition of release, parole, or probation.2

Recent data indicates that 45.3% of inmates in the United States committed drug-related offenses.3 Around 85% of the prison population meet the criteria for SUD or committed crimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol.4

Drug courts address people with SUDs specifically and offer people long-term treatment instead of requiring them to serve prison time.5 Drug court participants must complete rehab and work to create lifestyle changes—all while being monitored by the court for progress.5

What Is the Goal of Court-Ordered Rehab Programs?

For individuals with a SUD, who may experience legal troubles, prison alone doesn’t address the addiction, which may be the root of most of their problems.

Court-mandated treatment strives to improve the quality of life for the person struggling with substance use while simultaneously reducing criminal activity in the community.5 Research consistently shows that implementing comprehensive substance abuse treatment for criminal offenders works, reducing drug abuse and criminal relapse.2

Today, there are more than 3,500 drug courts in the United States, and these courts are designed to improve outcomes for offenders.6 Research shows that court-mandated rehab is just as effective or more than voluntary rehab for most people with SUDs.1 In fact, individuals who complete court-ordered rehab report less drug use—56% as opposed to 76% who did not receive treatment.6

While initially treatment costs might be high for individuals coming through the drug courts, it is far less expensive in the long run because it reduces the costs of the repeated processing of non‐violent offenders through court and correctional systems.7 One study found that drug courts saved an average of $5,680-$6,208 per person.6

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Who Is Eligible for Court-Ordered Rehab?

Each county’s criminal justice system determines eligibility for court-ordered treatment. Criteria for drug court varies from state to state—and even within counties in the same state—but are generally meant to help criminal offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and/or substance abuse problems.7

To be eligible for the adult drug courts as a criminal offender, most counties takes into consideration different factors, including:8

  • An assessment of the current charges.
  • The individual’s criminal history.
  • The circumstances surrounding the offense.
  • A substance abuse problem.
  • A willingness to want to change behaviors.

Who Pays for Court-Ordered Rehab?

The defendant pays for court-mandated treatment costs, but in most cases, they can choose their treatment facility, and insurance or Medicaid will often cover at least part of the services. Some treatment programs may also receive state funding or offer sliding scale (based on income) or payment plans for qualifying individuals.

Drug court programs generally require frequent drug tests, court appearances, and participation over a period of months or years to establish and maintain long-term recovery. They help participants with employment opportunities, community service, education, and support, and reward individuals for adhering to treatment plans.5

See if your insurance provider may help you with the cost of treatment.

Are There Different Types of Court-Ordered Treatment?

Drug courts may mandate different types of treatment, depending on the offense and the person’s level of SUD severity and needs. Court-ordered treatment plans may include: 10

  • Detoxification. Medically supervised detoxification might be required for offenders whose alcohol or drug abuse has caused life-threatening symptoms.
  • Outpatient treatment. Regularly scheduled counseling or other behavioral health appointments support recovery and address related psychiatric, social, and emotional issues and needs. In nonintensive outpatient treatment, individuals can maintain home, work, and career responsibilities.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment/partial hospitalization. This structured program may include day treatment or part-time hospital treatment with a range of therapeutic interventions or psychoeducation to promote recovery but does not include overnight stays.
  • Residential/inpatient treatment. Inpatient rehab may include treatment for co-occurring mental health problems as well as SUDs. Medical, psychiatric, and behavioral health services and therapies may be part of the program with around-the-clock care and supervision.

How Long Is Court-Ordered Rehab?

Mandated rehab length varies for each person, but studies indicate that a lasting reduction in criminal activity and drug and alcohol abuse are related to treatment length.2 Old patterns of thinking and behaving will not change overnight, and building new skill sets and coping tools takes time.2 People with more severe SUDs and additional mental health problems may require additional time.2 Aftercare and follow-up treatment are also important for maintaining long-term recovery. Research shows that individuals who continue treatment in the community—through peer support groups and counseling—reduce their risk of relapse in both drug use and criminal acitivity.2

Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

Statistics on Court-Ordered Rehab

Research on the effectiveness of court-ordered rehab is limited, but some studies indicate that mandatory treatment is largely effective in reducing rates of criminal behavior relapse, especially where the quality of care in treatment is evidence-based, attentive, and motivational.13

A European study of 3,000 adults and an American study of 2,700 women diagnosed with co-occurring disorders both indicated general improvement after mandated rehab.13

Another study of mostly American juvenile males found that 10-13% of the participants returned to their criminal behavior after treatment.13

Treatment outcomes—mandatory or voluntary—seem to have the highest rate of success when the individual has a strong motivation to change, whether that’s legally induced or not.13

Failing to Complete Mandatory Rehab

Violation of court-mandated substance abuse treatment can lead to very serious consequences. Failing or refusing drug tests, being late to appointments, using substances, or leaving treatment may be punishable offenses. Penalties for these and other violations depend on different factors, which may include:14

  • The type of violation.
  • The number of times the violation occurred.
  • The individual’s criminal history.
  • The length of time already in treatment.
  • The individual’s behavior during treatment.

Penalties and punishments are determined by local laws, drug court policies, and the judge’s discretion and may include fines, community service, jail time, or additional time in treatment.

Can Rehab Help a Court Case?

When you complete a court-ordered treatment program, it generally means more freedom and decreased concerns about jail time and a criminal record. The details, however, depend on your legal history, jurisdiction, and the judge and treatment team’s concerns. Drug court and mandated treatment models generally include ongoing screening, assessment, judicial interaction, drug testing, supervision, and/or follow-up treatment services after rehab to ensure prolonged recovery and a decreased risk of criminal activity.9

Care decisions are usually made by a drug court team of judges, prosecution and defense attorneys, corrections staff and addiction social workers, and healthcare providers.9 With professional and community support, you or your loved one will have the best chance at an improved long-term quality of life.

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