Oklahoma drug courts provide nonviolent offenders with an alternative to incarceration that addresses their underlying drug addiction, which often contributes to the offender's criminal activity. First offered in 1995, drug courts are currently operational in 73 of the 77 Oklahoma counties. Although Oklahoma law establishes specific guidelines that all drug courts within the state must adhere to, once these requirements are met, individual counties can tailor the drug courts to meet their unique needs and resources.
Under Oklahoma law, only nonviolent offenders are eligible for drug court, but counties can limit eligibility to specific nonviolent offenses. They can also establish separate drug courts for felony and misdemeanor crimes, and develop juvenile drug courts to deal with the special needs of juvenile drug offenders. State law also gives counties the discretion to choose the offenders they admit to drug court. Although an offender may meet all eligibility requirements, counties are not legally obligated to offer drug court as an option.
Drug Court Structure
Due to the specialized nature of drug courts, Oklahoma law requires counties to establish independent judicial processing systems separate from the general criminal court process. Unlike traditional criminal courts that focus primarily on punishment, drug court centers around treatment; keeping the drug court process separate helps the professionals involved in drug court focus on the court’s overall goals and mission. Many counties employ a designated drug court judge whose sole responsibility is to oversee the drug-court program.
To ensure drug court participants receive proper treatment for their underlying drug addiction, Oklahoma law establishes certain criteria to assist county courts in developing treatment options. These include implementing supervision and monitoring procedures, conducting random substance abuse testing, making residential treatment facilities and outpatient services available, as well as establishing provisions for noncompliance by offenders, treatment plan modifications and revocation proceedings. County courts can develop additional programs that enhance these base requirements.
Participating in drug court often keeps an offender from serving jail time, a practice commonly referred to as treatment in lieu of incarceration. Participants who successfully complete the program may have their criminal charge dismissed or record sealed. The requirements for completing drug court vary by county; each county has full discretion in how to deal with participants who fail to comply with the program. According to the Oklahoma Bar Association, the average drug court program last approximately 19 months until successful completion.