« "Time to deal on life sentences for kids" | Main | Documenting the extremes of stacked federal gun mandatory sentences »

July 7, 2012

New report in Minnesota documents success of drug court model

This local editorial, headlined "Drug courts are proving their value," discusses a new state study providing additional support for the use of drug courts. Here are excerpts:

Drug courts work. For years, Judge Robert Rancourt of Chisago County, a leader in the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, has come to the State Capitol with that message about the specialized courts that offer willing nonviolent drug offenders an alternative to prison. For years, skeptical legislators have asked him to produce Minnesota-specific numbers to prove his point.

Now he can. The results of a two-and-a-half-year study are in. They confirm what Rancourt and his drug court judicial counterparts have been saying: Intensive, treatment-centered drug court programs are more likely than are traditional correctional measures to improve lives marred by illicit drug use -- and they save taxpayers money to boot.

That's welcome and timely news. It runs counter to skepticism about government's ability to respond effectively to social problems. It speaks to the worth of a judicial branch that has come in for more than its share of politically motivated deprecation of late.

And it arms that branch with the best lobbying weapon -- hard data -- with which to fend off funding cuts when the next state budget squeeze comes. That's likely to be as soon as next year. (The report itself illustrates what tight money has meant for Minnesota's judiciary. It explains that it lacks a thorough cost-benefit analysis because the funding that would have made that possible was cut by the Legislature.)

The report compared the experiences of 535 drug court offenders with 644 offenders with similar profiles who did not opt for the drug court's regimen of treatment, intensive supervision, incentives for good behavior and sanctions for reoffending. Among the findings: ... [years later] 26 percent of the drug court cohort had been charged with a new offense, compared with 41 percent in the comparison group.... [And] drug court participants show gains in employment, educational achievement, home rental or ownership, and payment of child support over the run of the program....

Fifteen years after their Minnesota debut, drug courts are both a work in progress and a work producing progress.

The full 157-page detailed report is available at this link.

July 7, 2012 at 03:10 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New report in Minnesota documents success of drug court model:


I work with drug offenders every day. I really want these programs to work, but frankly a quick skim of this glossy report leaves me a pessimist. There are a number of problems with it, but I'll focus on just two:

"Less than two in ten (17%) drug court participants receive a new conviction within 2 ½ years after start date compared to one-third (32%) of the Comparison Group."

This is nothing to get excited about. If the authors had bothered to calculate an effect size, it would be very small. Or to put it plainly: 2/10 is not that much different than 3/10.

The real question with drug courts is whether they have lasting effects beyond the period in which participants are being monitored by the court. From the study:

"The Drug Court Cohort has similar or smaller proportions of participants who are convicted of new offenses, after drug court discharge, as compared to the Comparison Group. Six months after participants’ discharge dates, 8% of participants in both groups are convicted of a new offense. One year after discharge, the Drug Court Cohort (13%) has a slightly lower proportion of new convictions, as compared to the Comparison Group (14%)."

That's nothing to write home about.

Posted by: Steve Erickson | Jul 9, 2012 12:30:30 PM

Steve Erickson,

What of the claims of cost savings? I could certainly believe that even heavy supervision on the outside costs less than simple incarceration.

If they get no worse result but do save money that seems like reason enough to expand the program, though if it is already available to nearly all truly willing offenders (I have no idea whether it is or is not) then there might not be much of a point in any such expansion.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 11, 2012 7:16:17 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB