Adult Treatment Court Best Practice Standards, 2nd ed.

Definitive guidance for treatment court practitioners

All Rise is working diligently to complete the second edition of the newly renamed Adult Treatment Court Best Practice Standards. Standards I-VI, VIII, and X are available now, and Standards VII and IX will be released by the end of 2024.

Please note the second edition is only available for digital download. Printed copies are not available.

The second edition incorporates best practices discerned over the past decade in a range of adult treatment court models, addresses frequently asked questions from the field, builds on the experiences and observations of All Rise faculty and audiences, and provides in-depth commentary and practical tips to help programs implement best practices in their day-to-day operations. Importantly, no provision from the first edition of the standards has been retracted or found to be erroneous in subsequent studies.

The Second Edition

Many best practices from adult drug courts have been found to apply to other adult treatment court models; therefore, the second edition of the standards applies to adult drug courts, co-occurring courts, DWI courts, mental health courts, reentry drug courts, tribal healing to wellness courts, veterans treatment courts, and family treatment courts. Note that family treatment courts should also consult the Family Treatment Court Best Practice Standards to help them meet the needs of young children and their parents or guardians.

The standards were updated by a diverse committee of treatment court practitioners, researchers, and other experts, and each revised standard was peer-reviewed by at least 15 subject-matter experts.

The revised standards include:

  • A statement on the core principles of best practices in each area
  • Provisions on observable and measurable best practice recommendations
  • Research commentary and evidence-based guidance on how to implement them in day-to-day operations

While Standards VII and IX undergo revision, the first editions of these standards remain available for download below.

What’s Changed?

While no provision from the first edition has been retracted or found to be erroneous in subsequent studies, some recommendations or benchmarks have been modified. Below are brief summaries of the major revisions to Standards I-VI, VIII, and X.

I. Target Population
Treatment courts are most effective and cost-efficient when they serve high-risk and high-need persons who require an intensive combination of treatment and supervision. This finding has been reported in all treatment court models examined to date. The definition of high need has, therefore, been broadened to apply to all adult treatment courts and includes not only a compulsive substance use disorder but also a serious and persistent mental health or trauma disorder and other significant treatment or social service needs, such as traumatic brain injury, insecure housing, or compulsive gambling.

Treatment courts are also discouraged from imposing unwarranted admissions requirements that do not improve outcomes or protect public safety and disproportionately exclude members of some sociodemographic or sociocultural groups.

II. Equity and Inclusion
Ensuring equitable access, services, and out­comes for all sociodemographic and sociocul­tural groups is a critical obligation of treatment courts. Research conducted in the past decade provides substantial guidance for treatment courts to monitor and rectify unwarranted cul­tural disparities. Examples of effective practices include removing invalid eligibility restrictions that needlessly exclude some cultural groups, engaging in proactive and culturally congruent outreach efforts, delivering culturally proficient treatments and complementary services, and avoiding monetary or other resource require­ments that do not improve outcomes or protect public safety.

III. Roles and Responsibilities of the Judge
Research underscores the critical impact of the judge in all treatment court models and for all sociodemographic groups examined thus far. Although biweekly court status hearings (every 2 weeks) produce superior outcomes in the first phase of adult drug courts, new evidence sug­gests that weekly hearings may be required in the first phase for participants needing greater structure and consistency, such as persons with a co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder or those lacking stable social supports. Studies of procedural fairness also offer up­dated guidance to help treatment court judges enhance participants’ motivation for change, provide needed support and encouragement, avoid shaming, stigmatizing, or retraumatizing participants, and enhance sociocultural equity.

IV. Incentives, Sanctions, and Service Adjustments
Delivering fair, effective, and safe responses for participant performance is critical for success­ful outcomes in treatment courts and one of the most difficult challenges for staff. Careful guidance is provided to help staff classify the difficulty level of participants’ goals, and to deliver incentives or sanctions to enhance their attainment of achievable (proximal) goals and service adjustments to help them develop the skills and resources needed to achieve difficult (distal) goals. Cautious advice is provided to help treatment courts avoid serious negative side ef­fects from the misapplication of high-magnitude sanctions, especially jail detention, and prac­tical suggestions are offered to help programs deliver a creative range of low-cost incentives to maximize success. Finally, an example of an evidence-based phase structure with appropri­ate phase advancement criteria is provided to help treatment courts avoid placing premature demands on participants and address their goals in a manageable and effective sequence.

V. Substance Use, Mental Health, and Trauma Treatment and Recovery Management
Treatment courts serve high-need persons with serious and persistent substance use, mental health, and/or trauma disorders. Achieving suc­cessful outcomes for these individuals requires treatment courts to deliver services that are desirable and acceptable to participants and ad­equate to meet their validly assessed treatment needs. This includes:

  • Collaborative, person-centered treatment
  • Psychiatric medication and medication for addiction treatment (MAT)

Recovery management interventions should be core components of the treatment court regimen and delivered when participants are motivated for and prepared to benefit from the services.

VI. Complementary Services and Recovery Capital
Complementary services are strengths-based and help participants to develop the person­al, familial, social, cultural, financial, and other recovery capital needed to help them sustain indefinite recovery and enhance their overall quality of life.

Treatment courts should routinely assess participants’ recovery capital and deliver desired complementary services to enhance their long-term adaptive functioning and life satisfaction. Importantly, complementary services also include health-risk prevention measures that are proven to reduce overdose and death rates, transmission of com­municable infections, and other serious health risks.

Treatment courts should not interfere with participant access to statutorily authorized and evidence-based health-risk prevention mea­sures, which may include safer-sex education and training on and distribution of condoms and other safer-sex products, naloxone overdose-re­versal kits, fentanyl and xylazine test strips, and unused syringes.

VIII. Multidisciplinary Team
A dedicated multidisciplinary team of professionals brings together the diverse expertise, resources, and legal authority required to improve outcomes for high-risk and high-need participants. Team members coordinate their roles and responsibilities to achieve mutually agreed upon goals, practice within the bounds of their expertise and ethical obligations, share pertinent and appropriate information, and avoid crossing boundaries and interfering with the work of other professionals. Reliable and sustained backing from governing leadership and community stakeholders ensures that team members can sustain their commitments to the program and meet participants’ and the community’s needs.

X. Program Monitoring, Evaluation, and Improvement
The treatment court continually monitors its adherence to best practices, evaluates its outcomes, and implements and assesses needed modifications to improve its practices, outcomes, and sociocultural equity. A competently trained and objective evaluator employs scientifically valid methods to reach causal conclusions about the effects of the program on participant outcomes.

What's Next?

We will release Standards VII and IX by the end of 2024. Below is a preview of the updates. Once the second edition is complete, we will update the standards on an ongoing basis to ensure that they remain accurate, relevant, and reliable as the definitive source of guidance for treatment court practitioners to implement evidence-based best practices.

VII: Drug and Alcohol Testing
Standard VII will provide new content related to trauma-responsive testing and illicit substances. This standard will also include new and updated research and address frequently asked questions from the field.

IX: Census and Caseloads
Standard IX will have a revised title in the second edition and provide new content related to evidence-based practices in community supervision and case management. This standard will also include new and updated research and address frequently asked questions from the field.


In 2013 and 2015, All Rise, then NADCP, released the first edition of the Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards in two volumes. The combined landmark document was the product of more than six years of exhaustive work by diverse experts who reviewed scientific research on best practices in treatment courts, other correctional rehabilitation programs, and substance use, mental health, and trauma treatment, and distilled that vast literature into measurable and achievable best practice recommendations.

Within two years of publication, 80% of U.S. states and territories responding to a national survey reported that they had adopted the standards for purposes of credentialing, funding, and/or training new and existing drug courts in their jurisdiction.

Several updates were made in 2018, but it became clear that the standards would need more significant revision to remain at the forefront of evidence-based best practices.

In December, 2020, All Rise convened a panel of researchers and subject matter experts—facilitated by All Rise Director of Standards Meghan Wheeler—to review each standard for necessary updates. In the following two years, the core group of contributors to this second edition; Doug Marlowe, Meghan Wheeler, John Gallagher, Carol Venditto, Terrence Walton, and Aaron Arnold, have gone above and beyond to make this publication a reality.

Dr. Douglas Marlowe, All Rise Senior Scientific Consultant, who authored the original standards, has dedicated countless hours to meticulously reviewing, critiquing, revising, and authoring new content for this second edition. His unwavering passion and diligence went into each word to ensure that the standards reflect the latest research in our field.