Drug Courts

4.2. Judicial Review Hearings

One of the more heralded aspects of drug courts is their position within the justice system, and their ability to bridge the various interests of the many agencies in the system. Rather than focusing on one aspect of supervision such as compliance, or attendance in treatment, drug court participation is structured to view each of the single components of an offender’s involvement with the justice system as a part of a larger mission to effectively address his or her problem behaviors and formulate plans for preventing future criminal activity and substance use.

Programs such as the drug court use an integrated strategy to produce consistent reductions in criminal drug use and recidivism. These programs combine community treatment and case management services with consistent criminal justice supervision and monitoring, give the offender education and employment support, and allow for close contacts with family and social connections. Furthermore, they add the power of judicial interaction, which creates a means of formal sanctioning if the guidelines and requirements of the program are not adhered to (Wilson, Mitchell, & Mackenzie, 2006). However, the influence of the judicial component has come into question. The notion that judicial reviews help to formalize the drug court process is not in doubt, but rather, it is the idea that this judicial interaction impacts offender outcomes that has been questioned.

Marlowe, Festinger, et al. (2003) recognize the judicial component as “the single-most defining component” of a drug court, but openly question how much this aspect influences outcomes. In this study, all drug offenders were randomly assigned to receive biweekly judicial status review hearings or to a group where they were monitored by case managers or treatment providers (who could ask for such hearings but only in response to offender noncompliance). The remainder of drug court programming was identical for both groups. Baseline interviews were conducted with clients, then monthly follow-ups, and follow-ups at 6 and 12 months after completion. Findings showed that more frequent hearings did not result in lower rates of reported substance use or other illegal activity or increase offenders’ likelihood of attending treatment sessions. However, biweekly hearings did result in a greater likelihood of intervention and in detection of noncompliance.

The authors stress that while these findings begin to shed light on what may be a common misconception (that increased presence of a judge has a significant impact on offender behavior), more detail must be gathered on what exactly happens during these status review hearings: In other words, it is not enough only to know that they occur; what takes place and how must also be understood.

Festinger et al. (2002) examined whether different types of offenders respond differently to judicial progress hearings, hypothesizing that the hearings would prove more effective for clients who are antisocial and more drug dependent. Results showed that participants diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (APD) achieved more weeks of abstinence in the biweekly (requisite) hearings group, and the same was true of those with a history of substance abuse. However, participants without APD fared better in the group that attended hearings as needed. More antisocial clients in drug court programs may require more supervision and structure than those without. The same can be said for those with a prior history of drug abuse and treatment. Conversely, clients without antisocial personality disorder or prior drug abuse may have more negative reactions to intense supervision by the criminal justice system. Such findings highlight the point made by Marlowe, Festinger et al. (2003) that each aspect of drug courts must be examined individually and thoroughly in order to fully understand their effectiveness and impact.

Marlowe and colleagues (Marlowe, Festinger, Lee, Dugosh, & Benasutti, 2006) continued this research by examining the effectiveness of matching certain offenders to more or less frequent status review hearings. This study, like the first, divided participants between two groups, but used a prospective matching design rather than completely random placement. In the first group (matched), high-risk offenders (those with diagnosed APD or history of drug abuse) were assigned to biweekly status hearings, and low-risk offenders were assigned to hearings only when deemed necessary by the case manager. In the second group (unmatched), all participants were assigned to the standard hearing schedule imposed in the drug court program (every 4–6 weeks). Participants were randomly assigned to groups.

Results were as expected: High-risk participants in the matched group had significantly more drug-negative tests than any of the other three groups, and high-risk participants in the unmatched group had significantly fewer consecutive weeks of drug-negative screenings. Also, those in the high-risk matched grouping were referred by the judge for IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) counseling more than their unmatched counterparts, which suggests that their treatment was more individually tailored to their needs. There was no significant difference between the matched and unmatched groups in terms of low-risk clients, which indicates that judicial status hearings may not be a necessary component of treatment for these individuals.

Marlowe and colleagues (Marlowe, Festinger, Dugosh, Lee, & Benasutti, 2007) repeated this study and found consistent results. Within high-risk participants, graduation rates from the matched group were 75%, compared to 56% from the unmatched group. Again, there was no major difference within low-risk participants, though those from the unmatched group had a 3% higher graduation rate than those from the matched group. Similar results were found in terms of urinalysis results and change in Addiction Severity Index (ASI) scores.

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