Drug Courts and Recidivism Rates

R. Mihaly
I. The Growth of Drug Courts

Drug courts provide treatment to offenders with substance use disorders. Drug courts improve the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intensive judicially-supervised treatment (Huddleston & Marlowe, 2011). They provide mandatory periodic drug testing, community supervision, appropriate sanctions, and other rehabilitation services (USDOJ, 2016) Drug courts have been shown to reduce recidivism in hundreds of studies and meta-analyses.

Drug treatment courts, or drug courts, have expanded rapidly from one in 1989 to 492 in 1999 (NADCP, 2016a). By 2005, there were 1,600 in the U.S. (Huddleston et al., 2005) as well as more in other nations. By 2011, there were over 2,400 (Huddleston & Marlowe, 2011). By 2013, almost 3,000 (Moore, 2013), and by 2015, there were over 3,400 drug courts in the United States (NIJ, 2015; LaFave et. al., 2015).

II. Meta-Analyses

Drug Courts have been subjected to extensive studies, perhaps more than all other interventions for drug-abusing offenders combined. Drug courts were extensively studied within a few years of their inception. A seminal American study, CALDATA 1994, tracked 1,821 Californian drug users in treatment and found average savings of approximately $10,000, with the greatest share of benefit deriving from lower recidivism. (Roberts, 2012).

By 1998, Dr. Steven Belenko had reviewed over 100 drug courts (Belenko, 1998; 2001). Meta-analyses have substantiated the positive effects of drug courts ever since. In 2005, the U. S. General Accountability Office examined 27 drug court programs and concluded drug courts reduce recidivism by a period of time corresponding to the drug court treatment (GAO, 2005).

In 2006 Dr. David Wilson et al., systematically reviewed 55 adult and juvenile drug courts and found drug court participants had lower rates of recidivism, in both drug and non-drug offenses, than those who did not participate in drug courts (Wilson et al., 2006). Other meta-analyses in 2006 and 2007 yielded similar results (Mitchell, et. al., 2007; Aos et. al., 2006; Latimer et. al., 2006).

In 2011, Dr. Deborah Shaffer meta-analyzed 82 drug court program studies, finding a reduction in recidivism (Shaffer, 2011). Dr. Ojmarrh Mitchell et al. meta-analyzed 365 drug court programs the following year, corroborating reduced recidivism findings (Mitchell, 2012). More recent meta-analyses of peer-reviewed literature evaluating diverse jurisdictions continue to substantiate findings that drug treatment courts reduce criminal recidivism (Rezansoff et al., 2015; Latessa & Reitler, 2015; Nolasco, 2016).

III. Variability by Study Design

Drug Courts are more effective than either probation (Gallagher et. al., 2015) or prison (Kellam & Bates, 2014). This has been shown in both rearrest and specifically felony-level rearrest (Kellam & Bates, 2014; Latessa & Reitler, 2015). However, results are dependent on study design.

For example, researchers differently measure variables in defining recidivism. Specific variables include rearrests, drug-related rearrests, violent-crime rearrests, subsequent court cases, subsequent treatment (residential, residential detox, outpatient, and intensive outpatient), new convictions, probation, prison, and/or parole (Finigan et. al., 2007; Marchand, 2006).

A basic variable involved in defining recidivism is the duration of time in which an individual needs to commit another act to be considered a recidivist. Recidivism has been measured comparing drug court participants with non-participants over periods ranging from fewer than 2 years to greater than 10 years.

IV. Jurisdictional Variability

Different drug court jurisdictions produce significantly disparate results (Crumpton, et al., 2004; Longshore et al., 2001). Recidivism rates vary by jurisdiction, but within 3 years about 50% of potential drug court candidates who do not participate in drug court are rearrested (Mitchell, 2012; Pew Center, 2011, Marchand, 2006; Roman et. al., 2003). Drug court participants are rearrested at lower rates. Drug court participation has been shown to drop the recidivism rate to 38%, 5 years after a drug court petition hearing (Finigan et. al., 2007). Graduates of drug court recidivate at lower rates, between 14% and 27% (Mitchell, 2012; Marchand, 2006; Wilson, 2006; Roman et. al., 2003, NADCP, 2016a). Even the most rigorous evaluations find modest reductions in general recidivism (Mitchell, 2012).

A jurisdiction is characterized by both the characteristics of the individuals in the jurisdiction of the drug court, and by the policies practiced by the drug court. Crumpton, et al. applied the same study methodology to different jurisdictions. They discovered dramatic differences in drug treatment court programs between two Maryland jurisdictions, Anne Arundel County and City of Baltimore.

In the Anne Arundel County drug court, the treatment cost was the responsibility of the participant and usually paid for by private insurance. In Baltimore, treatment was provided by private contractors hired by the Baltimore City Health Department. Overall, the researchers speculated the jurisdictional savings difference per participant was fundamentally attributable to a socio-economic disparity between the jurisdictions. They also noted differences in practices, organization and funding of the courts (Crumpton, et al., 2004).

Longshore et al. (2001) considered the question of why some drug courts are more effective in reducing recidivism than others. Some individual judges show greater reductions in rearrests than others (Finigan et. al., 2007). Finigan hypothesized that the most effective drug courts: (1) effectively use the courts' leverage (rewards and sanctions) to motivate offenders; (2) serve populations with less severe problems; (3) have high program intensity; (4) apply rewards and sanctions predictably; and (5) emphasize offender rehabilitation as opposed to other court goals like expeditious case processing (Longshore et al., 2001).

V. Drug Court Participant Characteristics

The principal factors in whether an individual drug court participant is likely to recidivate are factors such as prior criminal history, age, gender, race, successful drug court graduation, and whether the individual's crimes are violent or nonviolent (Finigan et. al., 2007). An individual's characteristics and the program's acceptance parameters are partially determinative of a program's success (Montecalvo et al., 2016; Lepp et al., 2007). It is not clear which drug court features are more highly correlate to reducing recidivism (Mitchell, 2012).

With regard to age, juvenile drug courts have substantially smaller effects on recidivism than adult drug courts (Mitchell, 2012). Juvenile drug courts differ from adult drug courts in that they generally provide services to relatively high-risk offenders, whereas adult drug courts typically exclude high-risk offenders. Juvenile drug courts are also usually less intensive and shorter in duration (Mitchell, 2012). However, both adult and juvenile drug courts have been shown to reduce recidivism of addicted offenders (Nored, 2016).

On average, males and females in drug court experience different outcomes. Marchand et al. researched effectiveness of the Kalamazoo County Adult Drug Treatment Court for the Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrative Office. Marchand found female participants were rearrested more often than the male participants in the first few months of the program, yet females were significantly less likely to recidivate than males in the 2 years following entry into the program (Marchand, 2006).

A range of non-traditional drug courts such as juvenile drug courts, DWI drug courts, and DUI courts have been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism among participants (Lawrence, 2015). The ABA recommends the innovation of drug courts to both decrease the probability of recidivism and to deal with addictions associated with criminal behavior "because of their proven record of reducing crime" (Hubbard, 2015).

VI. Conclusion

Practical experience and consistent academic research have proven the efficacy of drug courts. ADAM, the U.S. Department of Justice 2000 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring study, provided objective data on drug use, obtained from urinalysis (Brecht, 2003). ADAM found between one-fourth and one-half of all adult males arrested, and roughly one-half of all females arrested, were at risk for drug dependence.

The need for these programs has never been greater. The number of adults who are on probation, incarcerated, or on parole has grown 275 percent since 1980 (Hubbard, 2015). 67.8% of the 404,638 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states were arrested within 3 years of release, and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years of release (Durose, 2014; also see: Hora, 2009).

The great majority of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have found drug courts reduce the incidence and frequency of criminal recidivism compared to offenders who do not participate (E.g., Haley, 2016; NADCP, 2016a; Nolasco, 2016; USDOJ. 2016; Devall et. al., 2015; Hubbard, 2015; Latessa & Reitler, 2015; Obama, 2015; O'Dea, E., 2015; Rezansoff et al., 2015; Dowd, 2014; Gifford et. al., 2014; Kellam & Bates, 2014; Mitchell, 2012; Mitchell et. al., 2012; Shaffer, 2011; Marlowe, 2010; Blenkinsop, 2008; Finigan, 2007; Mitchell, et. al., 2007; Vick & Keating, 2007; Aos et. al., 2006; Carey, 2006; Latimer et. al., 2006; Marchand, 2006; Wilson et al., 2006; GAO, 2005; Crumpton, et al., 2004; Carey & Finigan, 2003; Gottfredson et al., 2003; Rempel et al., 2003; Roman et al., 2003; Belenko, 2001; 1998; Turner et. al., 1999; Belenko, 1998).

Drug treatment courts are the most proven strategy to reduce recidivism among substance-addicted, nonviolent offenders. Different jurisdictions have reduced criminal recidivism to varying degrees. However, on average, 75% of individuals who complete these programs are not re-arrested (Solomon, 2016). No other criminal justice program comes close to drug courts in achieving this level of scientifically-measured success.

The drug court research literature is clear. Drug courts have been shown to provide rehabilitation, as measured by reducing recidivism rates (Herrmann, 2016). Additional drug treatment courts will bring reduced criminal recidivism and lower net costs to society.

VII. References

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