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October 23, 2006

Reexamining drug courts

I just received news of "a free online event" scheduled for November 13 concerning drug courts hosted by Harvard University's Government Innovators Network and the National Institute of Justice.  The program is entitled "Drug Courts Reexamined," and more details and registration information are available at this link.  Here is part of the pitch:

As of 2005, 1,550 drug courts were operating in the United States, as were a host of other specialized, "problem solving" courts. But with decreased funding at all government levels, drug court expansion is no longer a foregone conclusion.

The National Institute of Justice and other agencies are now funding drug court studies that raise the standard beyond anecdotal observation.  In this 2-hour online event, sponsored by the Government Innovators Network and the NIJ, a panel of drug treatment and court experts will discuss research on adult drug court outcomes and costs, and the factors that affect program implementation and impact.

Related posts on drug courts:

October 23, 2006 at 06:48 PM | Permalink


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For a good critical examination of drug courts and the poor methodology used in drug court studies, see: Christie & Anderson, Drug Courts Are Popular But Do They Work And Are They Ethical and Appropriate for Canada? 23 Health L in Canada 70 (2003). Of particular note, is the failure of drug court efficacy studies to use intent-to-treat analysis -- a mortal sin in research design.

Posted by: Steve | Oct 23, 2006 7:12:17 PM

I'll try to get on the "online event," such as it is, or at least get an intern to take notes. But I have to tell you, after being an initial skeptic, I went to a reluctant believer and now a fairly enthusiastic proponent of drug courts (though with more caveats than the most ardent true believers). That's mostly because a growing bevy of conservative Texas judges who swear by them have bent my ear and downright chastised me for questioning their effectiveness. The folks running them, not a liberal among them, say they actually help change offenders' lives instead of recycling them through a revolving prison door. You hear downright EXCITEMENT from these judges about the programs. They have hope when many judges you talk to seem hopeless about their dockets awash in drug cases. That's what made me give them a second look.

Plus, stats in TX show recidivism is lower and it's still cheaper to supervise them on the equivalent of intense probation compared to incarcerating them.

I predict more drug courts, mental health courts and other "progressive sanctions" models, at least in Texas, where judges and P.O.s more aggressively supervise probationers in such specialty courts as part of a coming wave in experimentation with incarceration alternatives. Economics, morality and common sense all will ultimately demand it.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Oct 23, 2006 8:14:59 PM

The question is no so much do they work, as do they perform worse than conventional methods. Drug courts are popular because they are cheaper, because the alternative, long prison sentences, is very expensive. Unless recidivism is actually much worse in drug courts, why not go with the cheaper option?

Posted by: ohwilleke | Oct 27, 2006 8:22:19 PM

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