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Long term effects of drug court participation: evidence from a 15-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial

NCJ Number
Journal of Experimental Criminology Volume: 16 Dated: 2020 Pages: 27-47
Date Published
21 pages

This study compares 15-year recidivism and incarceration outcomes for individuals randomly assigned to Baltimore City’s Drug Treatment Court (BCDTC) or traditional adjudication. Additionally, the study examines the moderating effect of court of assignment. 


This study is based on a randomized controlled trial. Participants include 235 drug-involved offenders with substantial criminal and substance use disorder histories who were adjudicated within Baltimore City’s District and Circuit Courts. Key measures include number of arrests; convictions; person, property, drug, and violation of probation (VOP) charges; and days of incarceration. A measure of exposure time is included to account for time spent free in the community. Negative binomial regression and growth curve models test for group differences on each dependent variable over the 15-year follow-up. Additional models assess whether or not originating court moderates the treatment effect.

Participation in BCDTC resulted in significantly fewer arrests, charges, and convictions across the 15-year follow-up period, including several crime-specific differences. Originating court moderated the effect of participation for convictions, such that treatment participants in the Circuit drug court had significantly better outcomes than those in the District drug court relative to their controls. Participation in BCDTC did not have a significant effect on total days of sentenced incarceration.

Results suggest that drug courts have the potential to lead to sustained, long term effects on criminal offending for individuals with significant criminal history records and chronic substance use histories.

Date Published: January 1, 2019