Superior Court Drug Court Program

Drug Court Overview

Chatham County has helped to make Drug Court a successful reality.  The program has rescued the clients
that the Court serves from lives of addiction, despair, and incarceration, enabling them to live rich, rewarding, productive lives.

  • 24 month intensive outpatient treatment program consisting of five phases.
  • All participants must:
    • Attend group counseling sessions several times per week;
    • Attend individual counseling as required;
    • Attend required Community Support meetings weekly; 
    • Attend Drug Court once per week;
    • Submit to random drug screens at least twice per week;
    • Be employed full time (or part time if the Judge approves less than full-time employment) or enrolled in college or technical school.
  • Graduation Requirements:
    • Earn a G.E.D.;
    • Perform 80 hours of community service;
    • Pay $1,500 toward the cost of treatment;
    • Pay child support and restitution obligations; and
    • Remain drug free for at least 9 months.

“What you learn is that drug courts, which involve treatment for all the individuals and real support – along with sanctions when they fail – are a more cost effective method of dealing with drug problems than either probation or prison.” (Institute for Applied Research, 2004).

“Ultimately, the power of drug court lies in improving lives and saving families.   Drug courts give hope to the hopeless by reuniting parents with children, citizens with their community, and spouses with one another.”
-- NCDI, Painting the Current Picture:  National Report Card on Drug Courts, May, 2008, p. 3.

The Drug Court wishes to thank the Chatham County Commission and the taxpayers of Chatham County for their support.

Drug Court Goals

The goal of the Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court is to reduce or stop 1) the abuse of drugs and alcohol and 2) criminal activity related to the abuse of those substances. Drug Court offers a choice to individuals whose criminal justice involvement stems primarily from drug and alcohol abuse. Drug Court affords these offenders the opportunity to participate in a two year, five phase, intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program. In exchange for successful completion of the Drug Court program, a defendant's probation will be terminated, and his First Offender status will remain intact (if the defendant entered the program with First Offender status). For other defendants, participation in Drug Court allows the defendant to avoid prison or probation detention center time while receiving substance abuse treatment.

The Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court is a post-plea, adult felony drug court. This means that the Court accepts persons charged with qualifying felony criminal offenses upon their entry of a guilty plea to same, or persons on probation for a qualifying felony criminal offense who violate the terms of their probation by testing positive for drugs, admitting the use of drugs, or committing a new drug-related criminal offense.

Drug Court referrals generally come from the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, Probation, or from a private practice defense attorney. The Drug Court team meets weekly to discuss referrals and to review current participants' progress in the Drug Court program.

Drug Court uses a non-adversarial team-centered approach to address participants' cases. The Judge is the central figure on the Drug Court team. Participants appear in court weekly during Orientation and Phases One and Two of the program, biweekly during Phase Three, and monthly during Phase Four. At these court sessions, the Judge conducts reviews of participants= progress, focusing on sobriety and accountability as the main goals. The Judge's role is to keep participants focused and engaged in treatment and recovery through a Twelve Step based treatment program (including various Community Support meetings). The Drug Court treatment providers (substance abuse counselors contracted through Recovery Place) focus on developing a therapeutic relationship with each participant. Treatment providers also keep the Court informed of each participant's progress so that rewards and sanctions can be administered.

What Is Drug Court?

The Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court operates consistent with its Policy Manual, which incorporates the National Association of Drug Court Professionals' Drug Court Standards Committee's Ten Key Components of Drug Courts.   Drug Court's rules are well defined and easy to understand. Adherence to the Drug Court rules is within the individual's ability to control and comply. Success or failure is based on the participant's performance, and the results are readily measurable:  the participant either appears in court or does not; attends treatment sessions or does not; frequent, random drug testing reveals drug use or abstinence. The participant's performance is communicated directly to the Judge, who rewards progress or penalizes poor performance and noncompliance. The Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court establishes an environment where the participants are encouraged to take control of their own recovery.

Drug Courts, including the Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court, follow the Drug Court Standards approved by the Judicial Council of Georgia.   Drug Courts are intended to change offender and addictive behavior through a team approach. This Ateam@ involves a Judge (the Honorable James F. Bass, Jr.), an assistant district attorney, two public defenders, a probation officer, several sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement personnel, four substance abuse treatment providers, a treatment case manager, and a Drug Court Coordinator.

Participants in Drug Courts are persons who have committed non-violent drug related crimes and have no history of drug sales offenses. The length of the program is usually 24 B 30 months. Participants can complete the program in a minimum of 24 months; 9 months of continuous sobriety is required in order for a participant to graduate from the program.

The Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court is set up to encourage and promote personal responsibility by holding the participant accountable for his or her actions. Participants must go through intensive outpatient treatment, attend regular Drug Court sessions, groups, and AA or NA meetings as directed by the Court and by treatment providers, appear before the Judge each week in court, submit to random and frequent alcohol and drug testing, maintain full time employment or attend school full time, support their families (including any court ordered child support), pay $1,500 in Drug Court fees and complete 80 hours of community service during their two years in the program, and obtain a high school equivalency diploma (GED). As stated above, at least 9 months of continuous sobriety is required for a participant to graduate from the program. Drug Court graduations are held four times per year.

For more information about Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court, please call Patricia W. Pinkney, Drug Court Coordinator, at (912) 652-7144. We also encourage you to come observe a Drug Court session. Judge Bass presides over two Drug Court sessions per week: Tuesdays at 8:00 a.m. and Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. Drug Court sessions are held in Courtroom 4B on the Fourth Floor of the Chatham County Judicial Courthouse located at 133 Montgomery Street, Savannah, Georgia.


Why Drug Court?

Drug use has shaped the criminal justice system.  Drug and drug-related crimes are the most common crimes in nearly every community throughout the United States.   Offenders move through the criminal justice system in a predictable pattern: arrest, prosecution, conviction, incarceration, release.   Not many days, weeks, or months later, the same person may be picked up on a new charge and the process begins all over again.

America's prison population has expanded beyond capacity.

Nearly 1 out of every 100 U.S. citizens is in jail or prison. Incarceration rates in the U.S. are literally ten times greater for young African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34 years than for any other group.

Most inmates are in prison for one major reason: substance abuse.
Perhaps 75% to 80%  of offenders use drugs or alcohol. More than 50% of people who are arrested for many types of crimes test positive for illegal drugs at the time of arrest

Incarceration has had little or no effect on drug abuse.

Many drug abusers, 60% to 80%, commit a new crime after being released from prison.  These are usually drug-related or drug-driven crimes.   Almost 95% of offenders serving time return to drug use or abuse after being released from prison.

Treatment without accountability for performance in treatment is proven to be costly and ineffective.
Unless they are regularly supervised by a judge, 60% to 80% of participants drop out of treatment early and few graduate successfully.

Drug Courts reduce crime more than any other program.
The more conservative estimates from scientific sources and Ameta-analyses@ have concluded that drug courts significantly reduce crime as much as 35% compared to the alternatives.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded drug courts significantly reduce crime compared to the alternatives.

In a nationally study of more than 2,000 graduates from over 90 Drug Courts, the average recidivism rate was only 16% in the first year after leaving the program, and 27% after the second year.  This compares very favorably to recidivism rates on conventional probation, in which 46% commit a new offense and over 60% commit a probation violation.

The Criminal Justice System Needs a New Direction

  • More than 2.3 million adults are incarcerated in the U.S., representing 1 out of every 100 adult Americans.  (1 in 15 African American males and 1 in 36 Hispanic males are currently incarcerated).
  • Drug and alcohol abuse drives much of the explosion in the inmate population:  Approximately 80% of inmates have a serious history of substance abuse, and one half are clinically addicted to drugs or alcohol.*
  • Most of these individuals do not pose a serious threat to public safety.  More than three-quarters of state inmates were incarcerated for a nonviolent offense and most of them have no record of a violent offense.+
  • Prison does little to stem the tide of crime and drug abuse.  Upon release from prison, between 60 and 80% of drug abusers commit a new crime (typically drug related), and 85 to 95% relapse quicky to drug abuse.#
  • More than half will return to prison in a now all too familiar revolving door pattern.  In some states, such as California, more than 75% will be returned to prison. 

* Belenko & Peugh (1998).  Behind Bars:  Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population.  New York:  National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse; Karberg & James (2005).  Substance dependence, abuse, and treatment of jail inmates, 2002.  Washington, DC:  Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Dept. Of Justice; Fazel, et al. (2006).  Substance abuse in prisoners: A systematic review. Addiction, 101, 181-191.

+ See, e.g., Warren, R.K. (2008).  Evidence-Based Practice to Reduce Recidivism:  Implications for State Judiciaries.  Williamsburg, VA:  Crime & Justice Institute, National Institute of Corrections and National Center for State Courts.

# Langan & Levin (2002).  Recidivism of prisoners released in 1994.  Washington, DC:  Bureau of Justice Statistics, U. S. Department of Justice; Spohn & Holleran (2002).  The effects of imprisonment on recidivism rates of felony offenders:  A focus on drug offenders.  Criminology, 40: 329-357; see, e.g., Hanlon et al. (1998).  The response of drug abuser parolees to a combination of treatment and intensive supervision.  Prison Journal, 78, 31-44; Martin et al. (1999).  Three-year outcomes of therapeutic community treatment for drug-involved offenders in Delaware.  Prison Journal, 79, 294-320; Nurco et al. (1991).  Recent research on the relationship between illicit drug use and crime.  Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 9, 221-249.

Drug Courts Work!

To learn more about Drug Courts, please visit these websites:

A Personal Account

I am Larry L.  My drugs of choice are crack cocaine and alcohol.  I entered the Chatham County Drug Court on June 30, 2010.   As of September, 2010, if  I count my jail time, I've been clean upwards of 21 months.   Not counting my jail time, I've been clean nearly 16 months.   Drug Court is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.   It was by no means a get out of jail free card.   I had to work for what I have, and I had to work hard.   My motto today is, AWhat I want gotta match what I'm doing, and what I'm doing gotta match what I want.@  My deepest, most personal desire was to stop using drugs.   While in Drug Court, I've been able to see clearly and connect the job losses, relationship losses, the guilt, the shame, the loneliness, the lack of control, the anger, the tears, the suicidal tendencies, the pain I've caused others, and so much more, directly to my drug and alcohol use.   Drug Court provided the vehicle by which my deepest, most personal desire would finally be fulfilled.   I have been using drugs of some kind since I was in elementary school.   Today, I am approaching two years of clean time.   I seriously doubt this would have been possible without the help of Drug Court.

Drug Court is a Viable Solution

  • Designed to facilitate treatment and rehabilitation of non-violent felony drug offenders over the age of 18 who meet the admissions criteria established by the steering committee.
  • Intended for those diagnosed with substance dependence or who are abusing drugs or alcohol and wish to change.
  • Maximum capacity – 100 to 150 clients.


Drug Courts Save Money

  • 18 rigorous cost/benefit studies have found average cost savings ranging from $4,000 to $12,000 per client
  • The Urban Institute estimates a favorable cost/benefit ratio as high as $3.36 for every $1 invested in treating drug-addicted offenders under the watchful eye of Drug Court*

* The Urban Institute. (2008).  To Treat or Not to Treat:  Evidence on the Prospects of Expanding Treatment for Drug-Involved Offenders.

Per Diem Costs

Sentenced Per Diem Cost
Incarceration $55.00
Treatment $15.00

Drug Court Savings to the Taxpayers

  • Minimum savings of $100,800 per 30 days for active clients (84 total).
  • Minimum savings per 60 days:  $201,600
  • Minimum savings per 90 days:  $302,400
  • Minimum savings per 120 days:  $403,200
  • Minimum savings per 180 days: $604,800

Savings To Taxpayers Cost Comparison 30 Days Incarceration vs. 30 Days Treatment Cost Comparison 60 Days Incarceration vs. 60 Days Treatment Cost Comparison 90 Days Incarceration vs. 90 Days Treatment
Cost Comparison 120 Days Incarceration vs. 120 Days Treatment Cost Comparison 180 Days  Incarceration vs. 180 Days Treatment Per Diem Cost
Savings To Taxpayers
Cost Comparison 30 Days Incarceration vs. 30 Days Treatment
Cost Comparison 60 Days Incarceration vs. 60 Days Treatment
Cost Comparison 90 Days Incarceration vs. 90 Days Treatment
Cost Comparison 120 Days Incarceration vs. 120 Days Treatment
Cost Comparison 180 Days Incarceration vs. 180 Days Treatment
Per Diem Cost

Graduation Rate

  • To date, 372 participants total:  75 currently active in program; 142 terminated (for drug use or technical violations); 2 deceased; 153 graduated
  • 41.1% graduation rate
  • According to National Association of Drug Court Professionals, “[t]he science proving the benefits and efficacy of Drug Court is unambiguous. Drug Courts significantly reduce drug-use and crime and save tax-payers a fortune. Simply put, Drug Courts have far superior outcomes than jail or prison, and greatly improve community treatment outcomes.”**


Drug Courts Reduce Crime

  • Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest free for at least 2 years after leaving the program.*
  • Compare this figure to the typical re-arrest rates on standard probation (46% of probationers commit a new offense and over 60% violate their probation), and to the high re-arrest rates ensuing after release from prison (generally exceeding 60-80%).+

* Roman et al. (2003).   Recidivism rates for drug court graduates: Nationally based estimate – Final report.  Washington, DC:  The Urban Institute and Caliber.
+ Langan & Cunniff.  (1992).  Recidivism of felons on probation.  Washington, DC:  Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Recidivism Rates for Savannah-Chatham County Drug Court Graduates (as of July 2010)

  • Total of 27 individuals with 54 arrests (felonies and misdemeanors)
  • 18.75% rearrest rate (felonies and misdemeanors)

Incalculable Savings

  • Clients employed, paying taxes, and paying child support
  • Families reunited
  • Children not in DFCS custody/foster care
  • Savings on medical care
  • Reduction in drug related property and personal crimes
  • Reduction in drug related violent crimes

Profile of a “Typical” Drug Court Participant

  • Black male
  • 18-31 OR 39-45 years of age
  • Cocaine OR polysubstance (3 or more substances) dependent
  • Single
  • Between 0 and 2 children
  • High school graduate
  • Unemployed

Age Distribution Co-occurring Psychiatric Diagnoses Drug Court Population Employment and Housing Status at Time of Entry into Program
Marital Status Number Of Children Substance Abuse Diagnoses
Age Distribution
Co-occurring Psychiatric Diagnoses
Drug Court Population
Employment and Housing Status at Time of Entry into Program
Marital Status
Number Of Children
Substance Abuse Diagnoses

Real Life Examples

Before Drug Court After Drug Court
  • White female, 35 years old, registered nurse, addicted to oxycontin and crack cocaine
  • Arrested for obtaining controlled substances by fraudulent prescriptions
  • Entered Drug Court in January, 2006
  • Graduated Drug Court in December, 2007
  • No re-arrests or re-convictions
  • Regained custody of her children;
  • Recently notified of reinstatement of nursing license
  • Active in Drug Court alumni group and mentoring active participants
  • Black female, 50 years old, unemployed, homeless, 1 child, prior psychiatric treatment, addicted to crack cocaine
  • Arrested for possession of controlled substance/probation violation
  • Entered Drug Court in April, 2002
  • Graduated Drug Court in December, 2004
  • No re-arrests or re-convictions
  • Graduated from college with B.S. in Nutrition
  • Currently employed
  • Regained custody of her child


  • From Probation during the probation violation process
  • By counsel (i.e., the Assistant District Attorney and Defense Attorney or Public Defender)

Eligibility Criteria

  • New pending charge or a violation of probation with at least 2.5 yrs. of probation remaining
  • Facts and charges that substantiate active substance addiction
  • Chatham County resident and U.S. Citizen
  • District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s (or designee’s) approval
  • Willingness to enter

The following factors will exclude individuals from being eligible for Drug Court:

  • Violent or sex offender or current gun charges
  • Unresolved charges in other counties
  • Second-time sale convictions
  • Previous AWOL for 14 or more days from program
  • Impairment that would interfere with ability to actively participate and successfully complete the program

Savannah - Chatham County Drug Court

133 Montgomery St.
Suite 616
Savannah GA 31401

(912) 652-7144

Drug Court  is held each Tuesday at 8:00 AM and each Wednesday at 3:00 PM in Courtroom J, on the 4th floor of the Judicial Courthouse.

These sessions are open to the public, and we encourage visitors. Map & directions to the Chatham County Courthouse

Use this form to submit a question or feedback to the Drug Court Program of Chatham County.
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