Innovative at their inception three decades ago, drug courts confront a practical and ethical obligation to reimagine some core practices and assumptions. A shifting legal and public health landscape means, for example, increased scrutiny of the courts’ focus on abstinence and mandated treatment, and the use of jail.
Our publication argues the most effective way for drug courts to evolve is by integrating the practices and principles of harm reduction. Harm reduction aims to reduce the harms related to drug use, racialized drug policies, and social health disparities, with services not contingent on a person’s willingness to change all behaviors.
Drug courts and harm reduction cannot be easily reconciled, but the benefits of even a limited partnership outweigh the challenges. In a first-of-its-kind effort, the authors offer drug court practitioners 12 strategies to help drug courts re-align with their original stated purpose: to offer a truly therapeutic and health-based alternative to carceral drug strategies.