Executive summary


This report presents the results of an evaluation of the Department of Justice Canada (Justice) Drug Treatment Court Funding Program (DTCFP). The evaluation covers the period from 2016-17 to 2020-21 and addresses issues related to relevance, effectiveness and efficiency.

Program Description

The DTCFP represents a concerted effort to break the cycle of drug use and criminal recidivism, through innovative partnerships among the criminal justice system, drug treatment services and social service agencies. The objectives of the DTCFP are to:

DTCs provide an alternative to incarceration by offering the offender an opportunity to participate in a court-monitored, community-based drug treatment process. DTCs are provincial and territorial courts that target adult, non-violent offenders who have been charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) or the Criminal Code of Canada, in cases where their substance use disorder was a factor in the offence. Offenders who are interested in participating in DTC and enter a guilty plea are assessed by the Crown, with input from the DTC team to ensure that they meet DTC eligibility criteria. Most DTCs prioritize high risk and high needs applicants.

To date, the DTCFP has established funding agreements with 10 provinces/territories (PTs) to fund 13 DTCs. The total transfer payment budget for the DTCFP during the years covered by the evaluation is $18.7M.

The key elements of DTCs funded under the DTCFP include:

The length of the DTC program is approximately one year. A treatment plan with a strong case management component is developed for each participant. A cornerstone of the DTC is involvement of a team of DTC professionals and external service providers who coordinate and provide integrated addictions, health and social services, safe housing, stable employment and/or an education. During the program, the participant is required to appear personally in court on a regular basis and each participant is subject to random urine screening. It is expected that the participant will be honest and disclose any high-risk activities and information on whether a relapse occurred. The judge will review his progress and can either impose sanctions or provide rewards.

To successfully complete the program, participants must meet several criteria established by the DTC which typically refer to compliance with program conditions, no further criminal convictions, indicators of social stability, and a period of abstinence from substance use. Participants who successfully complete the DTC program may receive a non-custodial sentence



The evaluation found that the DTCFP is well aligned with federal and Justice priorities, as articulated in the most recent ministerial mandate letter and 2021 budget commitment to increase the number of funded DTCs. As a collaborative and therapeutic court offering an alternative to incarceration, DTCs reflect the evolving perception that the criminal justice impacts of addiction can be best addressed using a health-based approach. While the DTCFP-funded DTCs are guided by established principles, there is flexibility for DTCs to adjust implementation to their local jurisdictional and community context.


The DTCFP-funded DTCs serve a small population of offenders, however, the number of DTCs and the number of participants in DTCs increased during the period under study. The evaluation found a high degree of interest among almost all jurisdictions in the expansion of DTCs, including establishing additional sites, increasing capacity to meet demand or exploring new DTC streams (e.g., for diversion, low risk or under-represented participants).

The profile of participants has remained largely stable over time; DTC participants are mainly Caucasian men, although the proportion of participants who are Indigenous has increased somewhat. There are challenges to equitable access to DTCs due to some differences in eligibility criteria, waitlists for some DTCs and geographic barriers as all DTCs are located in urban centres. While the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had a negative impact on the operation of the DTCs by reducing the personal and intensive interventions that are a cornerstone of the program, virtual delivery had benefits for some and also offered some lessons that may be applicable for delivering the DTC program to participants in smaller, or rural or remote communities.

Some DTCs favor greater flexibility in the eligibility criteria, specifically, more case-by-case consideration of contextual factors related to the risk to public safety criteria (nature of the charge, history of violent offences). These criteria, which impact some communities and groups differently, may contribute to an under representation of some identity groups among DTC participants (e.g., women, Indigenous or racialized individuals).

DTCFP stakeholders are generally satisfied with the operation of their respective DTC. At the program level, the DTCFP Working Group meets regularly and provides an opportunity for jurisdictions to provide updates. There are, however, opportunities to improve sharing of lessons learned and best practices among DTCs. The quality of information that is gathered through the program’s information system, Drug Treatment Court Information System (DTCIS), could also be improved in order to identify and promote best practices and the continuing refinement of the DTC model.

The evaluation found that DTC programming is tailored to individual needs and participants have access to many resources and supports. However, gaps in services were observed for some DTCs, including stable housing and access to mental health services and treatment beds. The target group for the program (high risk/high needs) coupled with the length and intensiveness of the program lead to a retention rate of about 30% of program participants. Nevertheless, participants can experience benefits from the program even if they do not complete all the requirements. While impacts of the DTCs on recidivism could not be assessed empirically at the time of the evaluation1, anecdotal evidence and the literature indicate that DTCs have a positive impact on recidivism, among other benefits (e.g., reduced substance use, positive social and health impacts). Expanding the experience with non-adversarial criminal justice system response and integration with other sectors (i.e. social, health) was noted as a positive unintended outcome of the program.


The evaluation found that the DTCFP is efficient in the management of Grants and Contribution funding, and over the evaluation period expended almost all of its allocated resources. The evaluation did not directly determine the cost effectiveness of the DTCFP; however, Canadian and international studies suggest that DTCs are more cost-effective compared to incarceration.


Based on the evaluation findings, the following three recommendations are offered:

Recommendation #1: Continue to enhance sharing of information and lessons learned among the DTCs.

Recommendation #2: The Program, in collaboration with the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group, should consider ways to support DTCs in any efforts to include groups who may be under-represented or experience barriers to access.

Recommendation #3: Examine ways to enhance DTCIS reporting quality and strengthen the expectations in funding agreements for reporting by DTCs.


1 A planned recidivism study could not be conducted within the timeframe of the evaluation. Justice Canada has entered into an agreement with Statistics Canada to complete a recidivism study at a later date.