This new evaluation by researchers from the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center (UI-JPC), RTI International (RTI) and the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) is the first long-term study of drug courts for adults. The study lasted for five years and examined 23 courts and six comparison jurisdictions in eight different states.
The main goals of the evaluation were to test whether drug courts reduce the use of drugs, crimes and other problems of their clients in comparison with offenders not exposed to drug court; address how well drug courts work, and determine the factors that make drugs courts more or less effective than regular courts in achieving desired outcomes; explain how offender attitudes and behaviors change when exposed to drug courts and how these changes could explain effectiveness of drug courts; and examine whether drug courts generate cost savings.
One of the most significant findings from the study is that these court programs can significantly decrease criminal behavior and drug use, because participants sensed that their judge treated them more fairly, showed greater interest and respect for them, and gave them more opportunities to talk during court proceedings.
The study found few differences among multiple categories of offenders– defined by social ties, demographics, mental health, prior drug use, and criminality– in terms of the magnitude of drug court impact. Findings indicated that nearly all categories of offenders benefit comparably from drug courts, which the researchers said could suggest that widespread drug court policies to restrict the eligibility to a narrow subset of the population might be counterproductive. In addition, drug courts also affected criminal behavior among most of the same subgroups. There were also no subgroup-based differences in the rate of positive drug tests.
The study noted that the primary reason drug courts work as effectively as they do is because of the judges running the courts. According to the study, drug court offenders often said that judges in drug court treated them fairly; the comparable group rarely made that assessment. In addition, the study found that when offenders have had more of a positive view on their particular judge, they have had better outcomes.
Although drug courts cost more than standard courts, researchers said drug courts actually end up saving money because of their improved outcomes. The savings are primarily from offenders committing significantly fewer crimes, having fewer re-arrests and spending fewer days incarcerated compared to those from standard courts.
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