Saturday, March 20, 2010

How effective are juvenile drug courts?

Having recently mentioned a report from the federal Government Accountability Office that called into question whether there's evidence-based support for juvenile drug courts, my interest was piqued when a commenter pointed out the subject is addressed more favorably in Marc Levin's recent report on cost saving juvenile justice programs from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Marc tends to think juvenile drug courts are demonstrating promising results. Here's an excerpt from the portion of the report on the subject:
Juvenile Drug Courts
Some 78.4 percent of youths in the justice system are connected to substance abuse, either because of testing positive for drugs, admitting to use, being under the influence at the time of the offense, or committing an offense involving alcohol or drugs. Upon arrest, 54 percent of youths test positive for drugs. Fortunately, addiction can often be treated successfully, as studies have found a 50 percent reduction in drug use after one year of treatment and a 64 percent reduction in arrests.

Drug courts have proven to be one of the most effective ways of diverting drug off enders into treatment. First developed in Miami in 1989, a drug court is a special court assigned to dispose of cases involving substance-abusing offenders through comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services, and immediate sanctions and incentives. Drug courts feature extensive interaction between the judge and the offender and often involve the offender’s family and community. Unlike the typical judge who issues a sentence and moves on to the next case, drug court judges regularly hold hearings to follow up with the offender and monitor compliance. Successful completion of the drug court results in dismissal of the charges (pretrial diversion) or satisfaction or reduction of the sentence (reentry or intensive probation). Drug courts vary in structure, as they may target different populations at different stages in the juvenile justice process and consist of different phases.

There are 14 juvenile drug courts in Texas. One of them, the Travis County Drug Court, was founded in May 2001 to serve post-adjudicated substance-abusing youths between 13 and 17 years old. Eligible youths include not only drug offenders, but also other types of offenders whose drug use significantly contributed to their delinquent conduct. Since 2001, there have been 362 participants. The most common drug used upon entry into the juvenile system is marijuana, with 51.3 percent of youths reporting use, followed by alcohol at 11.3 percent, benzodiazepines at 3.2 percent, cocaine/crack at 1.6 percent, and other drugs at 1.6 percent.
He examines a number of local programs, citing Travis County as having good outcomes:
The evidence indicates that the Travis County Drug Court has been highly eff ective. An increasing number of participants have not re-off ended within a year, with 84 percent not recidivating in 2008. Additionally, 78.7 percent of participants have refrained from alcohol or drug use within six months of completing the program. These outcomes are particularly impressive given the challenging composition of the population. Discharged juveniles averaged 6.8 referrals, and 43 percent had mental health problems.
In Tarrant County, says Levin, "Since 2006, recidivism rates upon two years following graduation are less than 10 percent."

By contrast, the GAO found that "Most experts indicated that there was limited evidence on the effectiveness and cost benefits of ... substance abuse programs, such as drug courts—specialized courts that provide programs for substance-abusing juveniles and their families." Here's more detail from that report:
Of the 13 substance abuse experts we interviewed, 10 had specific experience or knowledge related to drug courts that resulted in mixed views of the effectiveness of this program type.1 Juvenile drug courts are specialized courts established within and supervised by juvenile courts to provide intervention programs, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy, for substance-abusing juveniles and their families. Juvenile offenders assigned to drug courts are identified by a juvenile court as having problems with alcohol or drugs. The drug court judge maintains close oversight of each case through frequent—often weekly—status hearings with the individuals involved. The judge both leads and works as a member of a team that can comprise representatives from juvenile justice, social services, school and vocational training programs, law enforcement, probation, the prosecution, and the defense. Together, the team determines how best to address the substance abuse and related problems of the juvenile and his or her family.

Specifically, of these 10 experts, 5 experts described drug courts as having insufficient evidence to determine program effectiveness. For example, 2 experts mentioned that while some studies show drug courts reducing substance abuse while juveniles were under court supervision, the results did not last after juveniles were no longer being supervised by the courts. Another expert stated that since drug courts tend to be used for juveniles who have their first or second contact with the juvenile justice system, they are ineffective at achieving desired results because they expose these first-time offenders to peers who have more serious substance abuse addictions and therefore might influence them to continue to abuse substances. By contrast, the remaining 4 experts stated that drug courts can be effective at achieving desired results such as reducing substance abuse if, for example, the juvenile is sent to a community where there are intervention programs offered that have been evaluated and have been shown to be effective, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy intervention programs. One expert cited a study to support the opinion that drug courts supplemented with multisystemic therapy resulted in a decrease in substance abuse by juvenile offenders.
Obviously, with 14 active juvenile drug courts the state has an interest in whether or not they work to reduce crime. Marc's research provides a flip side to the GAO's recent guidance on the topic, but I wonder why the results he reported seem more positive than those the GAO experts cited?


Anonymous said...

If i'm not mistaken, aren't drug courts made up of offenders who volunteer for the program, hence the high likelihood of success....and they choose that option as opposed to a more severe consequence.

Anonymous said...

Grits - outcomes are highly dependent on what universe of juveniles who are placed in the program. If the clientel are first time offenders charged with relatively minor offenses, success rates are high (Travis & Tarrant.) If kids are chosen from a pool of kids already in the system who are on probation, and drug court is used as a progressive sanction, high rates of failure prevail. (at least that is our experience). One can wonder if drug court is used on 1st time offenders who committed minor offenses, did they really need to be in drug court at all?

Sam said...

"Upon arrest, 54 percent of youths test positive for drugs." Really? Where are they testing kids for drugs upon arrest? Maybe Russia?

Anonymous said...

juvenile drug courts are pure bullshit just people getting paid to boss you around take your money and make sure you dont fail a drug test why even do this when you are a juvenile ? your records going to be clean when your a adult anyway. i could go on and on about this im in juvenile drug court now every meeting or "counseling" class ive been going to for the past 8 months have been pointless and mostly not even on topic i cant tell you how many times weve been over the rules of drug court like we dont already know fucking bastards . so im gona end this comment now with FUCK YOU don whittington and FUCK YOU dinero washington burn in fucking hell you worthless peices of shit.

Anonymous said...

These things are a scam that cater to lobbysts supporting rehabs, therapists, churches, etc. And they are not proven to work. We had a drug addict steal from our condo, steal a car from a neighbor, crash it through our parking gate, and didn't get a day in jail because her family ran an organization, a drug church called Mercy Street, that works with the STAR Drug Court. No one has been repaid. These drug courts are disgusting.

Anonymous said...

@Sam I know as a juvenile that has been arrested on various occasions, that when you are transported to detention you are given a drug test before you can enter general population. I am also in Collin County Drug court program and am about to graduate coming next month. I personally believe that it is a great program, that will only help you if you want it to.