American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 52, Issue 1 (2016)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Beginning in the 1960s, the United States has suffered from waves of illicit drug epidemics, which have exerted immense stress on our system of criminal justice.2 For decades, the governmental response has been to wage a “War on Drugs” that has siphoned funding away from our nation’s schools and into the budgets of our correctional systems.3 In spite of the considerable amount of taxpayer dollars that has been dedicated to enforcement and incarceration initiatives, substance abuse remains a driving force in the criminal-justice system.4 After five decades of inefficient spending and ineffective imprisonment, governments at every level are realizing just how ineffective this “war” has been.5

While the rest of the nation slowly develops an understanding that our courts and judges can become powerful motivators instead of intimidators, in 1989, Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit took a visionary step toward ending perpetual criminality for drug-dependent defendants.6 By establishing the nation’s first drug-treatment court (DTC), the Eleventh Circuit created a revolutionary system that’s built healthier communities, cut spending, and changed how courts approach sentencing.