Back to top

Drugs & Substance Abuse in Corrections - Drug Courts

This study documented the positive impact of drug courts in New York on re-arrest and re-conviction both. If you are looking for ways to implement an effective drug court program or are looking to improve one you already have then you will find some helpful strategies to guide your efforts. This report contains eight chapter following an executive summary: introduction; research design and methodology; profile of drug court participant characteristics; profile of drug court policy characteristics and constructs; the impact of New York State adult drug courts; differential effects based on target population; differential effects based in drug court policies and practices; and conclusions. A few of the key elements in effective drug courts are: be sure to serve a higher-risk population; maximize legal leverage; impose certain sanctions for noncompliance; and use cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based practices (EBPs).

A Statewide Evaluation of New York’s Adult Drug Courts: Identifying Which Policies Work Best Cover

This Guide has been prepared for judges newly assigned to preside over a drug court program to serve as a quick primer to assist them in (a) becoming familiar with the key elements and evidence-based practices that should be reflected in the treatment services provided to drug court participants, and (b) working with local treatment provider(s) to ensure that these services are provided. The Guide is intended to serve as an introductory reference, addressing treatment related issues and practices that are critical to effective drug court program operations but too frequently not reflected in their design or services, as evidenced by numerous site visits to local drug courts conducted by the BJA Drug Court Technical Assistance Project at American University. Many of these visits have been to rural areas where treatment resources are often limited and we have therefore devoted a special chapter (See Chapter VII) to challenges rural drug courts are encountering and solutions that have been effective. Some of the challenges rural drug courts encounter may also have relevance to large, sprawling urban areas where efficient public transportation is limited and judges must cover multiple court locations.

The Guide is designed to be used in conjunction with nationally recognized drug court treatment resources, including: NDCI’s Evidence-based Practices; NIDA’s Principles of Substance Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations, the extensive additional resources available through NIDA and SAMHSA, and the BJA/NIJ Research to Practice resources. 

“This Issue Review provides a summary of national and Iowa research on the effectiveness of Adult Drug Courts, an overview of these programs currently operating in Iowa, including a description of offenders served and funding mechanisms, an analysis of the costs and benefits of the Adult Drug Courts operated by Community-Based Corrections, and the estimated need for funding” (p. 1). Sections of this report cover: the current situation in Iowa—funding history, offenders and risk, admissions, closures, and recidivism; cost-benefit analysis—Iowa Results First program, and program fidelity; and budget impact. Every $1.00 spent on the program results in $9.61 in benefits over ten years.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Adult Drug Courts Cover

"As resource constraints have tightened, the role of researchers in informing evidence-based and cost-effective decisions about the use of funds, labor, materials and equipment — and even the skills of workers — has increased. We [the authors] believe research that can inform decisions about resource allocation will be a central focus of criminal justice research in the years to come, with cost-benefit analysis (CBA) among the key tools" (p. 3). This is required reading for those individuals tasked with determining what the social impact of a criminal justice program will be (whether a benefit or not). It must be stressed that a CBA estimates social benefits not fiscal savings. This report is comprised of three sections: the basics of cost-benefit analysis—what and why, considerations in valuing time, what CBA can and can't do, and the four steps of a CBA; cost-benefit analysis in action—NIJ's Multi-site Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE); and results from the MADCE cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: A Guide for Drug Courts and Other Criminal Justice Programs Cover

As the title implies, the objective of this fact sheet is to provide drug court professionals with a scientifically based justification for discontinuing the interpretation of urine drug levels in an effort to define client drug use behavior. As the premise of this document is not without some controversy, clarification of its intent seems warranted.


This fact sheet is intended for drug court practitioners who are routinely engaged in the interpretation and evaluation of urine drug testing results for the purpose of participant case adjudication, particularly client sanctioning. Given that most drug courts do not have routine access to biomedical or pharmacological expertise, this fact sheet recommends that the use of urine drug concentrations be eliminated from the court’s decision-making process in order to protect client rights and ensure that evidentiary standards are maintained.


It is not the intention of this document to prohibit the interpretation of laboratory data by qualified scientists. Nor is it the objective of this fact sheet to assert that urine drug levels have no interpretative value. However, drug court practitioners are cautioned that the interpretation of urine drug levels is highly complex and even under the best of circumstances provides only limited information regarding a participant’s drug use patterns. Further, such interpretations can be a matter of disagreement even between experts with the requisite knowledge and training to render such opinions.


It is for these stated reasons that the NDCI strongly encourages drug court programs to utilize the information contained herein to evaluate their drug testing result interpretation practices. This organization recognizes that the use of urine drug levels to assess client behavior may be widespread and longstanding. However, because courts rarely have the necessary toxicology expertise, the routine use of urine drug levels by court personnel in formulating drug court decisions is a practice that in most cases would not withstand scientific or judicial scrutiny. It is hoped that this fact sheet will serve as the foundation for those drug court programs routinely interpreting urine drug levels to transition to a strictly qualitative (positive or negative only) result format. Drug courts are also encouraged to seek expert toxicology advice when necessary and appropriate to assist in the interpretation of testing data associated with challenging cases.

“The objective of this review is to systematically review quasi-experimental and experimental (RCT) evaluations of the effectiveness of drug courts in reducing recidivism, including drug courts for juvenile and DWI offenders. This systematic review critically assesses drug courts’ effects on recidivism in the short- and long-term, the methodological soundness of the existing evidence, and the relationship between drug court features and effectiveness” (p. 6). Results are provided for: a description of eligible studies; overall mean effects by type of drug court; robustness of findings to methodological weaknesses; drug courts’ long-term effects; features of the drug court; and additional sensitivity analysis. Overall, research shows that adult drug courts are effective in reducing recidivism, DWI drug courts moderately successful, and juvenile drug courts having small impact.

Drug Courts' Effects on Criminal Offending for Juveniles and Adults Cover

This publication “provides guidance for implementing an FDC [Family Drug Court], including the development of FDC partnerships and a common vocabulary for describing FDC components, with a focus on improving services to families who are involved with the child welfare system and are affected by substance use disorders. The authors hope that this document will help jurisdictions select and improve practices and, ultimately, outcomes for children and families” (p. 2). The recommendations made are: create a shared mission and vision; develop interagency partnerships; create effective communication protocols for sharing information; ensure cross-system knowledge; develop an early identification and assessment process; address the needs of parents; address the needs of children; garner community support; implement funding and sustainability strategies; and evaluate shared outcomes to ensure accountability. Appendixes provide: description of an arrangement for a multi-disciplinary or collaborative structure; a facilitator’s guide with sample tools and exercises that will help organizations in the collaborative process; and the evidence for the effective strategies for each recommendation.

Guidance to States: Recommendations for Developing Family Drug Court Guidelines Cover

"As an alternative to traditional juvenile courts, juvenile drug courts attempt to provide substance abuse treatment, sanctions, and incentives to rehabilitate nonviolent drug-involved youth, empower families to support them in this process, and prevent recidivism. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) sponsored a multisite study of juvenile drug courts to examine the ability of these courts to reduce recidivism and improve youth’s social functioning, and to determine whether these programs use evidence-based practices in their treatment services. This bulletin provides an overview of the findings" (p. 1). The results from this multi-site study does not support the efficacy of juvenile drug courts. In fact, juveniles who were drug court participants had higher recidivism rates than youth on probation. Based on the process evaluation, recommendations are provided for improving juvenile drug courts.

Juvenile Drug Courts: A Process, Outcome, and Impact Evaluation cover

A collection of the NDCI's Fact Sheets covering a number of different Drug Court topics.

Drug courts in the United States routinely fail to provide adequate, medically-sound treatment for substance use disorders, with treatment plans that are at times designed and facilitated by individuals with little to no medical training.  In a report published today by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), researchers found that drug courts – designed to reduce incarceration and provide necessary treatment – struggle to meet medical and human rights standards.

“Our study shows that while drug courts promise treatment rather than punishment, they face serious challenges in living up to that promise,” said PHR’s Christine Mehta, one of the paper’s lead authors. “Drug courts regularly set participants up for failure. Few communities have adequate treatment facilities, insurance plans often won’t finance effective treatment programs, and the criminal justice objectives of drug courts often overrule the medical needs of the patient in ways that threaten the rights and health of participants.”

Pages

Subscribe to Drugs & Substance Abuse in Corrections - Drug Courts