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Analysis of 26 Drug Courts: Lessons Learned, Final Report

NCJ Number
Michael W. Finigan Ph.D.; Shannon M. Carey Ph.D.
Date Published
December 2001
29 pages
This study analyzed the content of 26 process evaluations of drug courts across the country, using a lessons-learned approach.
Major issues and problems in implementation reported by the drug-court evaluators are categorized as "contextual" issues and "implementation" issues. Contextual issues identified in the evaluations are lack of cooperation among collaborators, the need for a system of graduated sanctions, a balance of rewards and sanctions, problems with transitions through program phases, and the development of an effective management information system. Implementation issues identified are a lack of consistency in program delivery, screening and assessment instruments issues, a smaller number of participants than expected or a larger number of participants than expected, lack of program resources, personnel turnover, urinalysis issues, and high incidents of bench warrants. Some notable programmatic strengths and practices reported are in the areas of gender-specific case management, public relations, aftercare, screening and assessments, urine testing, adjunct resources, close cooperation between the court and the treatment provider, a satellite office for the drug court, and the use of public defenders. Although the process evaluations focused on implementation issues, several provided some data on intermediate outcomes of drug courts. The two outcomes most often presented in the reports were recidivism and graduation rates. None of those who examined subsequent recidivism data were able to compare the results for drug court participants with a reasonable comparison group. The major intermediate outcome measure used by most of the evaluations was the graduation rate; however, there was disagreement among the reports on how this should be calculated, which yielded very different rates. The six lessons learned from the process evaluations are as follows: cooperation among key stakeholders in the drug court is central to its success; there is no standard for program composition, the number of phases that are appropriate, and how advancement is made from phase to phase; an effective management information system is critical to the successful implementation of a drug court, but the effort to create it can seriously hinder the implementation of the drug court; there is often inconsistency in the way a program is implemented for each client; there needs to be more effort to find a balanced range of incentives and sanctions available to the drug court; and most programs face serious problems associated with the fact that they have many fewer referrals and program participants than anticipated or, in some cases, they have more referrals than anticipated. A recommendation is offered for addressing each of the aforementioned lessons. An appendix charts findings from the process evaluations.