Program Goals/Program Theory
The Oregon Drug Courts offer an alternative to a traditional court by providing intensive and comprehensive management of drug offenders, through increased treatment, monitoring and interaction with the Drug Court Judge, to achieve reductions in reoffending and better drug treatment outcomes for substance users. Reduced recidivism and improved treatment outcomes also help to achieve significant reductions in future costs to the criminal justice system and the health care system while increasing public safety.
Drug courts differ from the traditional criminal justice process by including a strong treatment and supervisory component to the offender’s sanction. The objective is to treat the underlying substance abuse issues, which are related to continued criminal activity. By acting upon offenders’ addiction problems, the drug courts aim to prevent future offending and reduce recidivism.
The target population of the Oregon Drug Courts is offenders who have substance use problems. Referrals to the drug court are made by defense attorneys, prosecutors, and probation officers. The exact eligibility criteria vary from county to county.
Participation in the drug courts is voluntary. In Douglas County, Ore., for example, the deputy District Attorney working with the drug court screens defendants upon arrest and identifies those who meet the program criteria, which vary by particular drug court. After the program is explained to them, defendants have 2 weeks to decide whether to accept or decline entry into the
The program uses a nonconfrontational arrangement between defense attorneys and the prosecution to determine the best course of action for offenders while maintaining their right to due process. A treatment specialist assesses the participant to establish a treatment plan. To graduate from the program, the participant is expected to meet all the treatment objectives and undergo drug screening, including intensive abstinence monitoring for at least 6 months. The participant is also expected to attend a set number of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous (or AA/NA) meetings and have regular meetings with the drug court judge. While individual interventions are adapted to the offender after assessment by treatment professionals, the program requirements also vary by county, depending on how the program is implemented.
The program consists of at least 1 year of:
· Intensive treatment and other services required for the participant to get and stay clean and sober
· Participant accountability to the drug court judge for meeting obligations to the court, society, themselves, and their families
· Regular and random testing for drug use
· Frequent court appearances with the drug court judge to review progress
Participants receive rewards for doing well or sanctions for not meeting requirements. Again, these vary by drug court.
The drug courts team varies, depending on how the program is implemented. Commonly, the key personnel consist of defense attorneys, prosecutors, drug court judges, treatment specialists, law enforcement officers, and case managers.
18 to 100
Carey and Waller (2011) found a statistically significant difference in new arrests within 3 years between the treatment and comparison groups. Of the Oregon Drug Court participants, 48 percent recidivated, while 60 percent of the comparison group recidivated. In addition, the average number of rearrests for the comparison group was 2.02, compared to 1.14 for the treatment group. These results mean that participation in the program (across programs) led to an average of 44 percent reduction in number of rearrests and an average of 23 percent reduction in recidivism rate. The researchers noted that variations in program practices resulted in differential recidivism rates at individual sites.
Recidivism Over Time
The effect size of recidivism rates over a 3-year time period were shown to decrease, signifying that the differences in recidivism rates of drug court participants and the comparison group faded over time. This may be due to the waning effects of the treatment program or the increasing desistance of the comparison group, for example, by aging out. The study also found, however, that the difference in the number of rearrests between the groups was maintained, and even increased slightly, over 3 years. This is indicative that the treatment group is engaged in relatively less criminal activity over time than the comparison group.
Best Practices in Drug Court Implementation
Despite the study showing significantly less recidivism for drug court participants, results varied considerably between different drug courts across Oregon. Thirty-eight practices were identified as showing the most promise in achieving higher graduation rates, lowering recidivism rates, and/or producing cost savings. These best practices ranged from how drug courts integrated alcohol and other drug treatment services into the justice system case processing to how abstinence was monitored. For example, the researchers found that drug courts where the judge, coordinator, both attorneys, probation, treatment, and law enforcement attended court sessions had less than half the recidivism and achieved 25 percent higher cost savings.
The inclusion of participants with prior or current violence charges was not related to program outcomes, indicating that the drug courts are equally effective for these offenders. Similarly, accepting non–drug use charges (drug trafficking, property offenses, and forgery) was significantly related to lower recidivism.