What Are Specialty Courts?

Alternatives to incarceration

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

If someone is incarcerated for a drug-related offense, there is up to an 80 percent chance they will eventually repeat it, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. As a way to reduce this type of recidivism, specialty court programs target the root causes of crimes such as addiction and mental illness. In Nevada, there are 42 specialty courts, including one of the nation’s first drug courts, which opened in 1992. Other specialty courts include DUI, veterans’ and juvenile drug courts.

Among other criteria, to enter a specialty court, the participant must have a mental illness or an addiction, as well as no history of violent offenses or drug trafficking. In order to keep participants out of the criminal justice system, specialty courts use counseling, drug and alcohol testing, probation supervision, case management and regular court status checks over a minimum 12-month period.

On average, the program takes 12 to 18 months, and continuous monitoring is crucial for success. But the heavy involvement doesn’t mean it’s more expensive. The cost-efficiency comes from keeping participants out of the courtroom in the future. In fact, the NADCP reports that every dollar of funding for specialty courts saves $3.36 in future taxpayer money by avoiding potential courtroom costs.

This success continues to be recognized. The Eighth Judicial District Specialty Courts in Clark County recently received a grant of over $1.4 million from the Substance Abuse Prevention Treatment Agency. The grant provides sober living and treatment facilities for drug court candidates who are stuck in jail because of lack of space in rehabilitation centers. The NADCP estimates an annual fiscal savings of $2.9 to $4.2 million in averted incarceration costs.