Court Ordered Rehab: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Court ordered rehab is a form of alternative sentencing designed to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate. Learn more about court ordered rehab and how it works.

For some of us, our recovery journey begins with a sudden white-light spark of self-awareness of how dire our situation is. For some of us, it starts with an ultimatum or a breakup. For some, it starts with an intervention by our friends and family. For some of us, it starts with the help of the Justice System.  

For a long time, thanks to the “War on Drugs”, possession of certain drugs could lead to a prison sentence. To give an oversimplified history, the term “War on Drugs” refers to the policy of increased penalties, enforcement, and incarceration for drug offenders started in 1971 with the goal of combatting illegal drug use. The term “War on Drugs” was popularized in the media after then-President Richard Nixon called drug abuse “public enemy number one”. Needless to say, it has been a catastrophic failure that’s ruined the lives of millions of people. It competes with Watergate, Laos, and Cambodia for the darkest parts of Nixon’s administration (or him allegedly interfering with the Paris Peace Talks in 1968 to help his presidential campaign, look it up, seriously).   

Luckily, as time has passed people realized that rehabilitation would probably be a better treatment for addiction than incarceration.  


What is Court Ordered Rehab? 

Oftentimes drugs and/or alcohol factor into illegal actions. Because of this, a judge can mandate participation in a rehab treatment program in place of jail or, or as a condition of release, parole, probation. As time has passed, and as it has become clear incarcerating addicts doesn’t work, court-ordered addiction treatment has become a common sentence for people who broke laws under the influence of an illegal or illicit substance and/or have a long history of drug/alcohol abuse.  

In lieu of jail time or prison time, someone doing court ordered rehab will go to either an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility. This can mean going to either a public or a private rehab facility. When I did inpatient in Minnesota, I knew people who were ordered by the court to be there. Some of them went into inpatient directly from jail. When I did outpatient, I knew someone who had to wear an ankle bracelet.  

Source: Freepik

How Court Ordered Rehab Works 

When someone is ordered to go to treatment, they’re required to be in treatment for a set amount of time (generally 30-90 days). This treatment is supervised by the court, and often people in court-ordered rehab have to report to a judge and/or a probation officer. To ensure they’re abstaining from drugs and alcohol, people in court-ordered treatment have to submit to random drug tests. These conditions usually last for 12 to 15 months following treatment and violation of these terms will lead to further legal troubles.  

Oftentimes, these conditions can affect what state clients can live in or travel to. When I was in inpatient in Minnesota, I knew a couple people who couldn’t move into sober living in Minnesota, due to their probation officers ordering them to return to their home state to complete probation (in both cases, Wisconsin). I also knew a person in my treatment facility who couldn’t leave the state of Minnesota.  

The Criteria for Obtaining Court-Ordered Rehab 

Court-ordered treatment isn’t given to everyone. In general, court-ordered treatment will be given if:  

  • The crime was non-violent. 
  • The offense was either a direct or indirect result of drug or alcohol dependence. 
  • The court believes that the offender would benefit from rehab. 
  • The individual qualifies for a probationary sentence. 

As with anything in this article, this list varies by person and state. 


Common Questions and Answers 

Obviously, this is just a short summary of what court ordered rehab is. Here are some answers to questions you might be wondering: 

Who pays for court ordered rehab? 

In most cases, the defendant has to pay for court-ordered rehab. That said, the defendant chooses the treatment center they want to attend which means they have some flexibility to find a facility that offers the best price, takes their insurance, and/or offers the best support. As you’re probably well aware, the cost of substance abuse treatment varies between treatment centers. Lots of treatment centers offer a sliding scale payment plan that allows the defendant to pay the cost over a period of time.  

Insurance providers often cover at least part of the cost of court ordered treatment. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act from 2008 mandates that insurance has to cover substance abuse treatments. Because of this, defendants can use private insurance or federal insurance agencies like Medicare or Medicaid to cover at least part of the treatment costs.

How long is court-ordered rehab? 

This varies by case, but generally 30-60 days of inpatient, followed by a 12-15 month period of probation. Again, this varies drastically by case and by state.  

What happens after successful completion of the program? 

As mentioned above, there is usually a 12-15 month probation period upon finishing the court-mandated treatment. On top of this, courts will often have you attend 12 step meetings. To keep track of how many 12 step meetings you are attending, you will be given a written form that you can give to the meeting secretary, which they will then sign to confirm you attended the meeting. The form generally includes lines for secretary name, meeting name/location, and date. 

What are the consequences of not completing the program? 

Not completing the program will lead to further legal troubles, and potentially jail time or extended probation.  


Source: Freepik

The Benefits of Court-Ordered Rehab 

Any addict/alcoholic can experience benefits from seeking treatment, and people going to rehab through the court system are no exception. Benefits include: 

Alternative to Incarceration  

Incarceration does not help addicts/alcoholics. Rehab gives people the chance to get a strong foothold in recovery, which makes it more likely they will be able to find a stable living situation and employment, which makes it less likely they’ll commit crimes in the future. It’s a win-win-win situation. 

Safe and Structured Environment 

While there is structure in jails and prison, it’s well known that jails and prisons are dangerous places. Rehab facilities combine safety and the development of structured routines.  

Accountability with Frequent Testing 

To make sure you are actually staying clean and sober while in treatment, you will be subject to random drug testing. This keeps you accountable and helps push you to take advantage of the programs being offered to you.  

Just as effective as voluntary rehab 

Statistics show that court-mandated rehab is just as effective as voluntary rehab. So, while you might be thinking “well, that probably doesn’t work because they don’t want to be there”, the statistics don’t back up that viewpoint.  

Step-by-step recovery program to make dealing with addiction easier 

The 12 steps of AA/NA could be useful to anyone. Realizing and admitting what we don’t have power over, looking at our resentments and our part in them, finding our character defects and trying to fix them, making amends to people we’ve harmed in the past, doing daily inventory, and continuing to be of service to others. We get to work these steps. Whether forced or optional, these steps can help you grow.  

PCTD Can Help 

Whether you’re entering rehab by choice or through the legal system, Pacific Crest Trail Detox can help. Contact us today about our detox and treatment options. 

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