Problem-Solving Courts

V. Research on Problem-Solving Courts

A. Drug Court Evaluations

Evaluations done on drug courts have focused on both processes and outcomes. A number of process evaluations examined the characteristics of drug court programs. Goldkamp, White, and Robinson (2001b) identified two main ways defendants entered drug court programs. Participants in some programs entered the drug court after they were arrested but before they were officially charged. If they successfully completed the program, charges were not filed and some were able to get their arrests expunged. Other programs allowed defendants to enter the drug court program only after pleading guilty to criminal charges, and they worked through the program as convicted participants. Their successful completion yielded reduced sentences.

Another process evaluation by Belenko and Dembo (2003) examined juvenile drug courts and found that they were organized in the same manner as adult drug courts. They found that critical elements of juvenile drug courts included dedicated courtrooms, judicial supervision of treatment, judicial monitoring of participant progress and compliance, collaboration between court officers and community treatment providers, and sentence reduction or case dismissal for successful completion.

Outcome evaluations done on drug courts during the 1990s showed positive results. Most drug courts reported lower recidivism among drug court participants. However, these early evaluations were criticized for failing to use control or comparison groups (Berman et al., 2007). In a review of successful crime prevention policies operating before the year 2000, MacKenzie (2006) identified drug courts as a promising crime prevention policy, but also noted the need for more positive evaluations using more robust methodologies and statistical controls.

Evaluations of drug treatment courts since 2000 have been mostly positive. Goldkamp, White, and Robinson conducted evaluations of drug courts in Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Their first study (2001a) focused on outcomes and concluded that, in general, graduates of drug courts had substantially lower rearrest rates than nongraduates for up to 2 years after entering the program. However, when they used various statistical controls, they found that the positive results for graduates were not consistent from year to year and were impacted by outside factors such as changes in political leadership.

Roman and Harrell (2001) conducted a cost-benefit analysis of a Washington, D.C., drug court program. They found a statistically significant reduction in crimes committed by drug court participants compared to nonparticipants. They found that every dollar spent on drug court programs yielded 2 dollars in crime reduction savings.

A 2003 evaluation of six New York drug courts reported significant reductions in recidivism compared to control groups. This study tracked the arrest rates of the drug court participants and the control group members for 3 years. A randomized study of the Baltimore City Treatment Court also showed significant reductions in recidivism over a period of 3 years (Berman et al., 2007).

Galloway and Drapela (2006) conducted an evaluation of a drug court in a small nonmetropolitan county in northwest Washington. They found that graduates of the drug court, when matched with a comparison group of probationers, were less likely to be rearrested. The differences in the arrest rates between the two groups were statistically significant.

O’Keefe and Rempel (2007) conducted an evaluation of the Staten Island Treatment Court in New York. They used a one-to-one matching method of drug court participants with a comparison group of defendants who did not participate in the drug court. While selection for participation was not randomized, participants were closely matched with nonparticipants according to various demographic and crime-related factors. O’Keefe and Rempel reported a 46% reduction in recidivism over 1 year for drug court participants compared to the comparison group. The 18-month rearrest rate for the participants was 25% less. The 18-month reconviction rate for the drug court participants was 44% less than that of the nonparticipants.

Recent review or meta-analysis studies have also shown reduced recidivism for drug court graduates. Belenko (2001) conducted a review of 37 published and unpublished evaluations of drug courts between 1999 and April 2001. Most of the studies reported lower recidivism for drug court participants. Three of the studies used random assignment between participation in the drug court and control groups and they all reported lower recidivism for drug court participants. D. Wilson, Mitchell, and MacKenzie (2002) conducted a review of 42 drug court evaluations and found that 37 reported lower recidivism rates for drug court participants compared to nonparticipating defendants in control groups.

A general consensus now exists that drug courts are an effective crime prevention policy. Berman et al. (2007) stated that drug courts “generally produce significant reductions in recidivism” (p. 20). Cissner and Rempel (2007) concluded that “adult drug courts significantly reduce recidivism, although the level of impact varies over time and by court” (p. 31).

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