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Learn / Court-Ordered Rehab: What You Need to Know

Court-Ordered Rehab: What You Need to Know

Hannah Friedman
 July 29th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

There’s a strong connection between drug use and crime. First of all, just having certain drugs on hand is illegal. Some people also steal to fund their addictions or act out while under the influence. If you face legal action, the judge may decide court-mandated rehab is better than jail time. You can prepare for this type of treatment by learning how it works. 

What Is Court-Mandated Rehab?

Court-mandated rehab is an alternative to incarceration.1 Some judges use this option for first-time offenders. If your addiction is the main reason you broke the law, court-ordered treatment may be more appropriate than jail time. 

Many drugs impede good judgment,2 and some cause erratic behavior. For example, most people know that drunk driving is unsafe. But people with alcohol addiction often take high risks.3 You may look for ways to justify your actions, or you might not even consider that you’re putting people in harm’s way.

Court-ordered rehab gives you a chance to recover from addiction. By recognizing your own mistakes, you can change your life for the better.

How to Obtain Court-Ordered Rehab?

Ultimately, a judge will decide if you’re a candidate for court-ordered rehab. Different factors can affect how you obtain treatment, like the U.S. state in which you committed a crime. There are a few steps in the process of getting court-ordered treatment:4

  1. The judge decides if rehab is a better option than jail.
  2. The judge decides the length of court-mandated treatment.
  3. You attend an approved treatment center.

You can also request court-ordered rehab for someone else, even if they haven’t broken any laws. For example, the state of Massachusetts allows spouses and physicians to petition to send someone to rehab:

  1. You submit a petition for treatment.
  2. You go through an addiction assessment.
  3. The court decides whether rehab is the best option.
  4. The judge decides on the length of your treatment.
  5. You attend an approved treatment center.

Different states have different processes for requesting this type of rehab. If you think a person in your life needs mandatory treatment, look up how to petition a judge in your area. 

Who Is Eligible for Court-Mandated Rehab?

Many factors determine your eligibility for court-ordered drug rehabilitation.5 But it’s ultimately up to the judge. They’ll consider certain factors when deciding your case. 

Offender Would Benefit From Rehab

If the judge thinks you’ll benefit from court-ordered drug rehab, they’re more likely to offer it as an option. They’ll also consider what type of crime you committed. With non-violent offenses, like theft or drug possession, judges often recommend rehab over jail time. 

The Crime Was a Result of Alcohol or Drug Abuse

The judge may also consider your reasons for committing the crime. Many people break the law to fuel their drug addiction. For example, some drugs cause painful withdrawal symptoms and severe cravings.6 Even if you’ve never stolen before, you might do anything to make those symptoms stop. 

In these cases, judges may act with compassion. Court-ordered rehab holds you accountable while addressing the root cause of your behavior.

Types of Court-Ordered Rehab

There are several types of court-mandated rehab. The judge will choose between these options for you, even if they don’t pick a specific program.

Accelerated Pretrial Rehab Programs

An accelerated pretrial rehab program7 is a type of diversion program. Diversion programs avoid sentencing8 and offer an alternative to jail. If you’re a first-time offender, you can have criminal charges dismissed by attending this type of rehab.

Accelerated pretrial rehab focuses on getting to the root of the problem. So if you have an alcohol addiction and get a DUI for the first time, a judge might send you to pretrial rehab for alcohol treatment instead of going to trial.

Educational Programs

Court-ordered educational programs are classes that teach you about drugs and alcohol. The nature of your offense will determine which type of course you take:

  • Learning about the effects of addiction on yourself and the people around you
  • Identifying patterns of drug use and addiction
  • Creating a plan for positive life changes

Group Counseling Programs

A judge might send you to group counseling as a form of rehab. You’ll attend regular sessions with a therapist and 6-12 other people. In these meetings, you’ll learn coping skills and share mutual support. 

Detox and Inpatient Rehab Programs

If the judge thinks you require more intensive treatment, you may attend court-ordered detox and inpatient rehab. Detox is often the first step in addiction recovery. After you complete withdrawal safely, you can transition to longer-term inpatient care. 

Residential Counseling Programs

If you attend court-ordered residential rehab, you’ll probably spend up to 30 days in treatment.9 Many of these programs offer modified forms of 12-Step treatment. This kind of care provides more structure than outpatient programs. It may also focus on treating people who have committed a specific criminal offense.

Who Pays for Court-Ordered Rehab?

You have to pay for court-ordered rehab on your own. Some programs might require you to pay out of pocket, while others take insurance. 

All insurance companies cover addiction treatment10 to some extent. Still, your coverage depends on the type of program and your specific insurance plan. You might also meet the criteria for government subsidies and grants. 

Depending on your location, you may have a choice between treatment centers.11 Some states have specific treatment facilities for court-ordered rehab. Others let you choose a program from a list of approved rehabs. 

How Long Is Court-Mandated Rehab?

The duration of court-mandated rehab varies by program.12 Educational programs and accelerated pretrial rehab programs usually require you to complete certain hours. For example, you might take a 15-hour drug offender course for your first DUI. In most areas, court-ordered inpatient programs last at least 30 days, but some U.S. states offer 60-90 days of residential substance abuse treatment.

What Are the Benefits of Court-Ordered Rehab?

While it may feel like a punishment at first, court-ordered drug rehabilitation can serve as a wake-up call. These programs can serve to encourage patients to get the help they need before facing more severe consequences. 

Alternative to Jail

Jail is probably the last place anyone wants to be. Studies show people with substance use disorder benefit more from rehab than jail.13 You still have to spend time away from home in a rehab facility—but you’ll be in a space that helps you grow. During treatment, you can practice the coping skills you need to build a life you love.

Safe Environment 

Going to jail puts you at risk of violence and cuts you off from social support. A space like this can do more harm than good for someone with an addiction. 

Rehab programs, on the other hand, are there to help you recover. You’ll be in a protected space, with 24/7 access to a team of healthcare professionals. Their job is to keep you safe during detox and recovery.


Both jail and rehab hold you accountable for your actions. But while jail focuses on punishment, rehab motivates patients to heal. In therapy, you can learn how to take responsibility for your future. 

Support Network

In jail, there’s no guarantee that the people around you will have your best interests at heart. But you can build a strong support network in rehab. That may include your care team or other people in recovery. If your program offers family therapy, you can reconnect with loved ones while you’re still in residential treatment.

What Happens if Someone Fails Court-Ordered Rehab?

Sometimes people violate court orders by not attending therapy, skipping classes, or not taking treatment seriously. When you fail court-ordered rehab,14 the judge will decide on the consequences. They can choose between a variety of options:

  • Fines
  • More time in treatment
  • Extended probation
  • Immediate jail time

Is Court-Mandated Rehab Effective?

Involuntary addiction treatment can be very effective.15 A 2012 study found that people in mandatory rehab were more likely to complete treatment.16 Still, there isn’t much research on how effective court-ordered treatment is in the long term. 

The willingness to heal is a vital part of recovery. Court-ordered drug rehabilitation inspires many people to recover. Others may not be ready to commit to treatment. It all depends on the person.

Connect With a Treatment Program

Addiction and mental health issues can make it hard to recognize yourself sometimes. But there are many ways to get the help you need and start healing when you’re ready. 

Learn more about different types of treatment for addiction today. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Court-Ordered Rehab

What is court-mandated rehab?

Court-mandated rehab is an alternative to jail for people whose addiction led them to commit a crime. Instead of incarceration, a judge may order them to undergo addiction treatment to address the root cause of their behavior.

How do I obtain court-ordered rehab?

The decision for court-ordered rehab lies with the judge. If you or someone you know needs this type of treatment, you can submit a petition and go through an addiction assessment. The court will then determine if rehab is the best option and set the length of the treatment.

Who is eligible for court-mandated rehab?

Eligibility for court-ordered rehab depends on various factors considered by the judge. Offenders who would benefit from rehab, especially those involved in non-violent offenses driven by substance abuse, are more likely to be offered this option as an alternative to jail.

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