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Drug Courts and the Role of Graduated Sanctions

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 1998
4 pages
Publication Series
In 1993, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia received a grant to develop a pretrial intervention program aimed at drug-involved felony defendants, with the goal of reducing drug use and criminal activity.
Data were obtained on operations of the resulting drug court for the period between September 1994 and January 1996. Three characteristics of the drug court distinguished it from similar programs in other jurisdictions: (1) the program reached offenders at the pretrial stage rather than at adjudication; (2) the program primarily served felony defendants, two-thirds of whom had prior criminal convictions, instead of first-time and misdemeanor offenders; and (3) the Superior Court already had in place a highly automated and sophisticated drug testing system. Key operational features of the drug court included early intervention, judicial involvement in the progress of defendants, frequent drug testing, and immediate access to drug test results. Defendants became eligible for drug court intervention by failing while on pretrial release two of the twice-weekly drug tests required of those who tested positive for drugs at arrest. Defendants on the day treatment docket were enrolled in a 6-month program that consisted of orientation, stabilization, cognitive structuring, new concepts development, instructive action, and community leadership. The drug program, however, took an average of 11 months as opposed to the 6 months estimated for the day treatment docket. The average cost per participant was $4,500 more than the cost of court processing and pretrial supervision for control docket defendants. The sanctions docket used twice-weekly drug tests as its basis. Sanctions cases were open an average of 8 months, 1 month longer than the control docket. Average costs were $2,000 more per participant than for the control docket. Defendants on the sanctions docket were more than three times as likely to be found drug-free when tested than defendants on the control docket. Further, 100 days after release, 2 percent of sanctions docket defendants had been re-arrested, compared to 6 percent of control docket defendants. Defendants on the control docket received twice-weekly drug tests but had no compliance hearings, case management, or special treatment efforts. Researchers concluded that the sanctions docket influenced such indicators of program effectiveness as drug use and re-arrest rates and identified several fundamental characteristics of successful sanctions programs.

Date Published: August 1, 1998