George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

Establishing A Drug Treatment Court

Written by Fall 2023 M-VETS Student Advisor Dylan Sparks.


Combatting drug addiction calls for a collaborative partnership between the criminal justice system and substance abuse treatment programs. Establishing a drug treatment court is a great way for a community to establish such a partnership, and this article will explain the benefits that drug treatment courts bring and detail the steps a community should take to establish one.

What are drug treatment courts?

Drug treatment courts have become an increasingly popular solution for reducing addiction and incarceration rates.[1] In Virginia, drug treatment court dockets have been used in some localities since 1995.[2] They are formed with the objective of offering treatment for addiction and mental health issues that traditional courts may not be able to provide,[3] and they often offer incentives for participation such as “case dismissal, reduction in charges, and/or reduction in supervision.”[4] All drug treatment court dockets in Virginia are overseen by the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia.[5] They are often supported by a mixture of state and local funding.[6] In addition to providing defendants struggling with substance abuse support to help navigate their addictions, Virginia drug treatment courts were estimated to save $19,234 per person in 2012 when compared to traditional court methods.[7]

If my jurisdiction doesn’t have a drug treatment court, how can we get one established?

To establish a drug treatment court, a jurisdiction must create a local drug treatment court advisory committee.[8] The advisory committee will plan the operations of the drug treatment court,[9] and the members of the committee should be composed of officials such as: (1) the judge who will oversee the drug treatment court; (2) the local commonwealth attorney; (3) the local public defender, or a member of the local criminal defense bar if there is not a public defender’s office; (4) and the local clerk of court, among other officials listed in Virginia Code Section 18.2-254.1(G) as required members of the committee.[10] Other individuals besides the required committee members are also able to join a jurisdiction’s advisory committee.[11] Once established, the advisory committee will determine matters such as eligibility for offenders to participate in the drug treatment court program and operational/logistical policies.[12] If you would like to establish a drug treatment court in your community, contact your city council or local board of supervisors to get the process started.

How can my community get funding for a drug treatment court?

There are federal grants available to help communities receive funding for their drug treatment courts. These include grants available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,[13] the Bureau of Justice Assistance,[14] the Department of Justice, and other sources.[15] A non-governmental organization that has offered grants in the recent past is the Rural Health Information Hub.[16] In 2021, Culpeper County, Virginia received over $500,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to establish their drug treatment court program.[17] Nelson County would later be awarded $700,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2022 after the Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office submitted an application for the grant. [18] The Supreme Court of Virginia has also offered drug treatment court grants in the past.[19]

[1] Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Virginia Drug Treatment Court Dockets Fiscal Year 2023 Annual Report 1, 1 (2023),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id at 2.

[6] Id.

[7] National Center for State Courts, Virginia Adult Drug Treatment Courts Cost Benefit Analysis 1, 11 (Oct. 2012),

[8] Virginia Code Section 18.2-254.1(G).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Virginia Code Section 18.2-254.1(H)-(I).

[13] While this grant is for 2023, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would be a good source to check for future grant opportunities. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Grants to Expand Substance Use Disorder Treatment Capacity in Adult and Family Treatment Courts,

[14] Bureau of Justice Assistance, FY 2023 Adult Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program,

[15] U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Drug Courts,

[16] Rural Health Information Hub, Grants to Expand Substance Abuse Treatment Capacity in Adult and Family Treatment Drug Courts,

[17] Maria Basileo, Culpeper County Supervisors Accept Federal Funds for Drug Court, Culpeper Times (Jan. 21, 2022),

[18] Caitlyn Frolo, Nelson Co. Awarded $700,000 Grant to Staff, Supply Newly Established Drug Court (Oct. 11, 2022),

[19] Odyssey Fields, Bedford County’s Family Treatment Docket to Receive $60K to Fill New Position (Jan. 9, 2024),; City of Norfolk, Acceptance of a Norfolk Adult Drug Treatment Court Grant of $250,000 from the Supreme Court of Virginia and Authorizing Expenditure of $78,500 as a cash match (Sep. 13, 2016),