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How Do Drug Courts in Colorado Work?

by Demarco Moore

October 28, 2022
a drug court judge signing a treatment program agreement

Drug courts in Colorado invoke accountability and help people accused or convicted of drug and/or non-violent offenses avoid jail or prison time and receive addiction treatment. Drug courts have proven to be highly effective at helping defendants with substance use problems restore healthy lives and prevent future criminal arrests. 

“If you are willing to accept the fact that you might have problems and are willing to change, the drug court program can really help,” said Mark Johnson, a former drug court participant in Colorado’s Judicial District Six located in La Plata County, which has experienced a 73% overall graduation rate over the last 10 years. “I will never forget the amount of help and support I received from my counselor and my probation officer.”

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What are drug courts?

Drug courts are specialized, voluntary programs designed to provide nonviolent criminal offenders with the opportunity and responsibility to manage their substance abuse problems through probation supervision. Many of Colorado’s drug courts, like the fourth judicial district (El Paso and Teller County), are known as “recovery courts” (RCs) and are the most common problem-solving courts (PSCs) in Colorado’s criminal justice system.

The average time to complete a drug court program is 18-to-24 months. Depending on the judicial district, some participants have the ability to complete a program in as little as 14 months.

Related: What is court-ordered rehab?

an attorney argues for her client to be sentenced to drug court

Basic eligibility for drug court

Eligibility for one of Colorado’s drug/ recovery courts is usually determined by the judicial district or county that the defendant lives in. Referrals are typically made when a defendant meets the following qualifications:

  • Recognize they have a drug addiction or substance-related problem
  • Charges and criminal history must be related to drug addiction
  • Reside in the drug court’s judicial district
  • Be eligible for probation or facing probation revocation for violating a term or condition of their probationary sentence

What makes someone ineligible for drug or recovery court?

Certain offenses usually make defendants ineligible for one of Colorado’s drug court programs, including:

  • The defendant is on a medically necessary narcotic medication regimen
  • Mental health needs beyond the capacity of the drug court treatment team
  • A former participant in another criminal problem-solving court (successful or unsuccessful)
  • Supplying minors with drugs
  • Violent crime convictions
  • High-level dealing or manufacturing
  • Drug possession charges of more than a certain amount (depending on the judicial district) with intent to sell
  • Prior conviction of any acts instrumental in causing serious bodily injury or death
  • Prior conviction of sex-related offenses, including against minors
  • No established substance use problems
  • Offenders currently on parole

Drug court team

Drug courts are typically made of collaborative teams from the respective judicial district, including:

  • Drug court magistrate (judge)
  • Substance treatment provider
  • Drug court coordinator
  • Probation officer
  • Case manager
  • Prosecuting attorney
  • Defense attorney/ public defender)

Once a defendant is sentenced to drug court, the team uses a science-based approach to decide the best treatment plan, which could include programs like inpatient rehab or individual therapy

a person holding their cap after graduating from drug court

How to graduate from drug court

If a defendant qualifies for drug court, they will have to meet certain requirements to graduate. Those include:

  • Alcohol and drug assessment
  • Three-to-five phases of supervision
  • Do not possess any weapons or firearms during the program (surrender existing weapons until completion of the program)
  • Do not commit another crime (minor traffic violations excluded)
  • Pay all court costs

Typically, drug court programs in Colorado are split into three-to-five phases that each have their own time limit set by the respective judicial district. Participants are responsible for meeting the conditions of each phase to become eligible for graduation. Each phase may require participants to complete: 

  • Community service
  • Regular drug and alcohol tests
  • Meetings with an assigned probation officer
  • Appearances at drug court reviews

In many Colorado judicial districts, drug court may also require participants to complete intensive addiction treatment, which could include a referral to the following programs:

  • Inpatient rehab
  • Outpatient rehab
  • 12-Step meetings
  • Group and individual therapy

Incentives and sanctions

Each drug court team implements rewards and sanctions to encourage participants to avoid behaviors not helpful for their recovery. 


These are meant to reward participants for complying with the conditions of their drug court agreement. If a participant completes each phase of drug court they will successfully graduate and have a ceremony held in their honor. Other incentives may include:

  • Reduced community service
  • Reduced drug and alcohol testing
  • Fast-tracking through each phase of the program
  • Gift cards
  • Recognition at court appearances (e.g., praise, clapping, etc.)
  • Permission to travel
  • Progress chips for phase changes
  • Credits toward fines and costs or community service hours
  • Fee reductions for completion of inpatient or job training programs


If a participant violates their drug court agreement, they could face consequences determined by each judicial district, including:

  • A reprimand and warning from the drug court judge
  • A return to a previous phase
  • Extra drug and alcohol testing
  • Halfway house programs
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Mental health treatment
  • Extra community service
  • Jail or prison
  • Increased self-help meetings
  • Revoked travel privileges

Need help with a drug problem?

If you or a loved one struggles with drugs or alcohol, call 888-448-0302 to talk to an addiction treatment provider at Landmark Recovery of Denver. A member of our admissions team is available 24/7 on our confidential phone line with more information on addiction recovery resources and treatment options.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.