U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Impacts of Perceived Legal Pressure on Retention in Drug Treatment

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 27-55
Date Published
February 2002
29 pages

This article examines different forms of legal pressure used to compel drug treatment participation and the effects on client outcome.


The article presents results from a study of 161 offenders mandated from different criminal justice sources to attend long-term residential drug treatment. Legal coercion in any given criminal justice/treatment situation can be viewed as the extent to which the offender believes that the legally imposed consequences of not complying with treatment mandates are certain, severe, and swift. The study focused on the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison (DTAP) program. The DTAP program offers repeat, nonviolent offenders the option of a 15- to 24-month residential drug treatment program in lieu of prison. Charges are dismissed if the client completes the program. Those who fail in treatment are prosecuted on the original charge and most are sentenced to prison. The study designed and used a Perceived Legal Pressure (PLP) scale. The study concluded that it was too early in the development of a PLP scale to make claims about the magnitude of contribution attributable to it. In conclusion, the study offered support for mandatory treatment programs and the idea that progressively higher levels of perceived legal pressure can increase treatment retention. The study recommends expanding use of programs that provide clear mandates to participants and convince clients that they face certain but not necessarily severe legal consequences. It also recommends more research into the effects of different enforcement practices on long-term retention and comparisons of programs that carry out strong enforcement records with programs that emphasize frequent enforcement messages and quick, certain, but not severe responses to clients at risk of failure. Tables, figure, references

Date Published: February 1, 2002