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Juvenile Drug Court Effects on Recidivism and Drug Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

NCJ Number
Journal of Experimental Criminology Volume: 12 Issue: 4 Dated: 2016 Pages: 477-513
Emily E. Tanner-Smith; Mark W. Lipsey; David B. Wilson
Date Published
37 pages

This article details a meta-analysis of the effects of juvenile drug courts on general recidivism, drug recidivism, and drug use, and to explore variability in effects across characteristics of the drug courts and juvenile participants.


The researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search to identify randomized and controlled quasi-experimental studies that reported the effects of juvenile drug courts in the United States. Random-effects meta-analysis models were used to estimate mean odds ratio effect sizes, and meta-regression models were used to explore variability in effects. The literature search yielded 46 eligible evaluation studies. The meta-analysis found that, overall, juvenile drug courts were no more or less effective than traditional court processing, with mean effects sizes that were not statistically significant for general recidivism, drug recidivism, or drug use. There was statistically significant heterogeneity in those effect sizes, but none of the drug court or participant characteristics coded from the study reports were associated with that variability. However, the juvenile drug court evaluations were generally of poor methodological quality, with very few studies employing random assignment and many instances of substantial baseline differences between drug court and comparison groups. Juvenile drug courts were not found to be categorically more or less effective than traditional court processing for reducing recidivism or drug use. The great variability in effects, nonetheless, suggests that there may be effective drug courts, but no distinctive characteristics of the more effective courts could be identified from the descriptive information provided in the generally low quality research studies currently available. (Published abstract provided)