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Drug Courts: Better DOJ Data Collection and Evaluation Efforts Needed to Measure Impact of Drug Court Programs

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2002
84 pages
This report provides an assessment of the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs.
The purpose of a drug court program is to use the authority of the court to reduce crime by changing defendants’ substance abuse behavior. In exchange for the possibility of dismissed charges or reduced sentences, defendants are diverted to drug court programs in various ways and at various stages in the judicial process. This report follows up a 1997 report that concluded that many drug court programs were not maintaining follow-up data on recidivism or drug use relapse; and differences and limitations of existing evaluation studies didn’t permit firm conclusions to be made on impact or effectiveness of the programs. It was recommended that impact evaluations include post-program data and comparison groups with their scope. Results of interviews with drug court program researchers and practitioners, and completed surveys showed that there was insufficient management of data collection and performance measurement and outcome data. The factors contributing to this include the inability to readily identify the universe of drug court programs, and the inability to accurately determine the number of drug court programs that responded to semiannual data collection surveys. Also, there were inefficiencies in the administration of semiannual data collection effort; elimination of post-program impact questions from the scope of data collection survey effort; and insufficient use of the Drug Court Clearinghouse. Various administrative and research factors have hampered the ability to complete a two-phase national impact evaluation study. These include a delay in notifying drug court programs of plans to conduct site visits; lateness in meeting task milestones; and the inability to produce a viable design strategy that was to be used to complete a national impact evaluation. Recommendations to improve efforts to collect performance and outcome data on drug court programs include developing a management information system able to track and identify the universe of drug court programs; and consolidation of the multiple drug court program-related data collection efforts. 4 figures, 4 tables, 27 footnotes, 9 appendixes