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Drug Courts

Deputy Public Defender
Drug Court Director

Larry Bembry's Bio
Larry Bembry on Drug Courts

The Office of the Public Defender was an early advocate of drug court, and continues to be a strong supporter of the program.

The Office of the Public Defender works cooperatively with the New Jersey Judiciary and the state Attorney General’s office to ensure the continuing success of the innovative statewide Drug Court program.

Drug Courts are effective alternatives to traditional criminal courts.  Following an intensive screening process, non-violent drug offenders enter a strictly monitored substance-abuse program. This pro-active approach consists of treatment, counseling and other resources intended to assist offenders with such issues as job training, education and health care.  

The ultimate goal of Drug Court participation is to keep offenders free from the influence of drugs and alcohol in their lives so that they may avoid future involvement in the criminal justice system.

Drug court programs are holistic by design and offer substance abuse treatment with a broad continuum of services, intensively supervised in a non-adversarial forum with the power of the robe leading the way.


Non-violent substance-abusing offenders who enter the door of the criminal justice system should be given the opportunity to exit through the multiple doors of treatment. Only then can they become whole, healthy, law-abiding, self-sufficient citizens who may one day contribute to the community in a meaningful way.

Drug Courts are a leading example of the national trend toward therapeutic jurisprudence, which seeks to solve the endless cycle of addiction, criminality and incarceration through treatment and intensive supervision.

  • The mission of Drug Courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Drug Courts are a highly specialized team process within the existing Superior Court structure that addresses nonviolent drug-related cases.
  • The Drug Court judge heads a team of court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators and treatment professionals who work together to support and monitor a participant's recovery. They maintain a critical balance of authority, supervision, support and encouragement.
  • Drug Court programs are rigorous, requiring intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances, along with tightly structured regimens of treatment and recovery services. This level of supervision permits the program to support the recovery process, but also allows supervisors to react swiftly to impose appropriate therapeutic sanctions or to reinstate criminal proceedings when participants cannot comply with the program.

Adult Drug Court Website

New Jersey has built one of the most successful and respected drug court programs in the country. Drug Courts, through their holistic approach to treatment, provide the criminal justice system with a rigorous therapeutic alternative to incarceration that has been highly successful in enabling non-violent drug offenders to regain control of their lives and break the cycle of addiction and recidivism.

“A revolution has occurred in the criminal justice system during the past 10 years,” according to the Manual for Operation of Adult Court prepared by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the State’s Drug Court system.

“It began at the grassroots level with a few people who realized that the old approach to the drug using offender – incarceration and more incarceration – wasn’t working,” the Drug Court Manual states.

“As the numbers of accused drug offenders has increased, there simply have not been enough jails and prisons to hold them,” the Drug Court Manual states. “Drug abuse is breaking up families, destroying lives and devastating our communities.

“It takes a new kind of team, with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, supervision and corrections officers, and rehabilitation and treatment providers working together to restore our communities,” the Drug Court Manual states.

Drug Courts work because judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers and substance abuse experts all work together cooperatively to construct a supportive atmosphere to encourage and monitor a participant’s recovery.

“Drug Courts are a highly specialized team process that function within the existing Superior Court structure of address nonviolent drug-related cases,” the Drug Court Manual states. “They are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals.”

Against a backdrop of rigorous intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances, participants are guided toward rehabilitation and away from incarceration.

“Drug Courts have achieved notable success,” the New Jersey Supreme Court stated in a landmark decision September 19, 2007, that broadened access to Drug Courts.


“Within three years of finishing a Drug Court program, only 14 percent of Drug Court graduates were arrested for new indictable crimes,” the Supreme Court said in its unanimous opinion. 

“In comparison, a 15-state study found that 67.5 percent of offenders released in 1994 had been rearrested within three years of release,” the Supreme Court opinion states.

“Ninety-five percent of drug tests taken by New Jersey program participants produced negative results, and at the time of graduation, 93 percent of the participants were employed, the Supreme Court opinion continues.

“Additionally, the State realizes substantial cost-savings through Drug Court programs,” the Supreme Court opinion states. “The average cost per year to house an inmate in state prison is $38,900 compared to $25,813 to give that same offender the rehabilitation services of Drug Court, including six months of in-patient treatment.

“Those few statistics show the obvious benefits of our Drug Court programs,” the State’s highest court stated.

The Supreme Court’s opinion stemmed from a challenge by the Public Defender, who had asked the high court to reverse a lower court ruling that had restricted access to the judiciary’s highly successful statewide Drug Court program.

The NJ Supreme Court drug court rulings in 2010, concerning the cases of State v.Clarke and State v.Dolan, also helped to increase access to the drug court program. In these cases the Supreme Court recognized the importance of the clinical evaluation process of the drug court program, when it held that "the evaluation is a critical component of a decision to grant or deny admission into the Drug Court program".


Drug Courts grew out of the realization at the grassroots level by judges, prosecutors, and attorneys that the old approach of a seemingly intractable cycle of incarceration followed by more incarceration was not producing a solution but only the demand for more prison and jail cells.

The enactment of the “Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986” and the resulting major increase in arrests and state prison terms eventually sparked a reevaluation that an alternative innovative approach was needed.

Drug Courts have been very successful in generating substantial cost savings by replacing costly incarceration with less expensive treatment programs.

The rate at which New Jersey Drug Court graduates are re-arrested for a new indictable offense is currently 16%. The rate of reconviction is 8% and the rate of incarceration in a state prison is 4%.The rate of re-arrest of drug offenders released from prison was reported by the state's Department of Corrections as 54 percent with a re-conviction rate of 43 percent.

Drug Courts have also been found to significantly reduce drug use and recidivism while offenders are in the community because Drug Courts place them under close supervision and keep offenders in treatment programs and are provided coordinated rehabilitative services. 

An additional benefit of Drugs Courts is that they have been found to reduce racial disparity in the prison population.