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Do Drug Courts Work? For What, Compared to What?: Qualitative Results From a Natural Experiment

NCJ Number
Victims & Offenders Volume: 5 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2010 Pages: 64-75
Date Published
January 2010
12 pages

This study examined the use of recidivism statistics as a measure of the effectiveness of drug court programs.


This is an outcome study of addicts who were sentenced to treatment in a drug court which began operations in 1997. Ten years later, the author located and interviewed 25 people from 3 groups: (1) drug court clients, (2) addicts rejected from drug court and imprisoned, and (3) addicts accepted into drug court but who instead entered traditional drug treatment programs. The author explored measures of success such as ability to stay off drugs, hold jobs, maintain family relationships, and the more typically-used outcome variable: recidivism. Drug court clients had better life outcomes than offenders who went to prison, but those who participated in traditional in-community drug treatment were equally successful. Lack of recidivism as indicated in criminal records may be an inaccurate measure of success, since the study found that some subjects' records were clean because they had died. The number of study subjects is too small to draw broad conclusions about program effectiveness, but the results raise concerns about the methodology of many drug court evaluations. Table and references (Published Abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 2010