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Drug Courts:

Information on a New Approach to Address Drug-Related Crime

(Briefing Report, 05/22/95, GAO/GGD-95-159BR).

GAO provided information on drug courts, a new approach used to monitor

defendants' drug use, treatment, and behavior.

GAO found that: (1) in exchange for reduced charges, drug using

defendants can be diverted to drug courts where judges monitor their

progress through frequent status hearings; (2) drug court programs vary

in length, participant eligibility, funding, and other practices; (3) as

of March 1995, there were at least 37 drug courts operating nationwide;

(4) 33 drug courts have accepted over 20,000 defendants; (5) most drug

courts do not accept violent offenders; (6) drug courts have not been

operating long enough to determine their overall effectiveness; and (7)

although the 1994 Crime Act authorized $1 billion to support drug court

programs from fiscal year (FY) 1995 through FY 2000, Congress has

proposed repealing the drug court grant program.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------


TITLE: Drug Courts: Information on a New Approach to Address

Drug-Related Crime

DATE: 05/22/95

SUBJECT: Crimes or offenses

Courts (law)

Drug treatment

Federal grants


Drug abuse

Law enforcement


Offender rehabilitation

IDENTIFIER: Dade County (FL)

DOJ Corrections Options Program

Federal Drug Court Grant Program


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================================================================ COVER

Briefing Report to the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, and

the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives

May 1995





Drug Courts


=============================================================== ABBREV

BJA - Bureau of Justice Assistance

CSAT - Center for Substance Abuse Treatment

DOJ - Department of Justice

NIJ - National Institute of Justice

OJP - Office of Justice Programs


=============================================================== LETTER


May 22, 1995

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch


The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Ranking Minority Member

Committee on the Judiciary

United States Senate

The Honorable Henry J. Hyde


The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.

Ranking Minority Member

Committee on the Judiciary

House of Representatives

This briefing report provides information on drug courts,\1 a new

approach used by state and local governments to address drug-related

crime. These courts monitor the treatment and behavior of drug-using


Title V of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

(the 1994 Crime Act) authorizes the award of federal grants for drug

courts. The act requires that we assess the effectiveness and impact

of these grants and report to Congress by January 1, 1997. To assist

Congress in its deliberations on whether to fund drug courts, we

developed this preliminary report. Specifically, we gathered

information on drug courts in existence prior to the awarding of

grants under the 1994 Crime Act, assessed evaluations of these

courts, and reviewed the Department of Justice's (DOJ)

responsibilities and plans for implementing the federal drug court

grant program.

During April and on May 11, 1995, we briefed the Committees on the

results of our work.


\1 Throughout this briefing report, we use the terms drug courts and

drug court programs interchangeably.


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1

In response to the deluge of drug cases since the late 1980s and the

cycle of recidivism (rearrest rates) common to drug offenders, some

state and local jurisdictions created drug courts, the majority of

which have been operating since 1993. The main purpose of drug

courts is to use the authority of the court to reduce crime by

changing defendants' drug-using behavior. In exchange for the

possibility of dismissed charges or reduced sentences, defendants are

diverted to drug courts. Judges preside over drug court proceedings,

monitor the progress of defendants through frequent status hearings,

and prescribe sanctions and rewards as appropriate in collaboration

with prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment providers, and others.

Although there are basic elements common to many drug court programs,

they vary in terms of participant eligibility, length of the program,

penalties and rewards, and other practices. The courts are supported

by a variety of local, state, federal, and private funds and

participant fees, according to the Drug Court Resource Center.\2

As of March 1995, there were at least 37 drug courts operating

nationwide, most of which had been fully operational for at least 9

months. Thirty-three drug courts responding to our questionnaire

reported having accepted over 20,000 defendants, of whom a third had

completed their programs. According to the Project Director of the

Drug Court Resource Center, none of the drug courts accept defendants

currently charged with a violent offense, and most do not accept

defendants with prior violent convictions. However, at least one

drug court accepts defendants regardless of prior offenses. (See

sect. I for more general information on drug courts.)

We assessed six evaluations of five drug courts completed as of March

1995. Although some evaluation results indicated that drug courts

may have some beneficial effects, limitations in their designs and

methodologies, as well as the relative newness of drug courts,

precluded firm conclusions about the overall impact of these

programs. The evaluations showed mixed results in recidivism and

other defendant outcomes. For example, two evaluations showed less

recidivism by drug court defendants. However, three other

evaluations showed no significant differences in recidivism.

Additionally, two evaluations of the same drug court showed

contrasting recidivism results. (See sect. II and app. III for

more information on the evaluations we assessed.)

The 1994 Crime Act authorized the Attorney General to award and

administer discretionary grants for drug court programs. A key

requirement of the act is that violent offenders are prohibited as

drug court participants. The act authorized $1 billion from fiscal

years 1995 through 2000 to support drug court programs. For fiscal

year 1995, $29 million was appropriated. However, Congress has

proposed fiscal year 1995 budget cuts in a pending rescission bill.

In addition, the House has passed legislation repealing the drug

court grant program authorized in the 1994 Crime Act.

DOJ expects to award grants beginning in the summer of 1995. The

1994 Crime Act also authorizes the Attorney General to provide for a

national evaluation of drug courts supported by federal grants. DOJ

expects to complete the evaluation to assess the impact and

effectiveness of drug court grants in about 2 years. (See sect. III

for more information.)


\2 The Bureau of Justice Assistance funds the Drug Court Resource

Center. The Resource Center began operating October 1, 1994, under

the direction of The American University in partnership with the

National Center for State Courts and the National Consortium of

Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime Programs. The Resource Center

assists state and local justice system officials in planning,

implementing, managing, and evaluating drug courts. It also acts as

a clearinghouse and provides technical assistance and other services

to jurisdictions interested in developing or expanding drug courts.



------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2

In preparation for our 1997 mandated study, we initiated a

preliminary review of drug court programs. Our objectives were to


the number, location, and key elements of drug courts;

the results and validity of evaluations of drug courts; and

DOJ's responsibilities and plans for implementing statutory

requirements for the federal drug court grant program.

The Drug Court Resource Center, which is based at The American

University, Washington, D.C., provided us with general information on

drug courts. To obtain more current information, we sent a

questionnaire to 37 drug courts. We received responses from 33 drug

courts as of March 31, 1995. We did not verify the accuracy of the

data provided to us by the Drug Court Resource Center and drug

courts. In addition, we attended a January 1995 national training

conference for drug court professionals in Las Vegas, NV, and visited

drug courts in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

To determine the results and assess the validity of evaluations of

drug courts, we obtained 11 drug court evaluations completed as of

March 1, 1995, from the Drug Court Resource Center. These

evaluations were done by a variety of sources, including independent

researchers, county officials, and court representatives. We

reviewed them and assessed the evaluative methodology used and the

validity of reported findings. We did not analyze the reported

results of three of them because they reported outcome data for drug

court defendants without any reference to comparison or control

groups. We were unable to assess the validity of one because it did

not include a description of the methodology used. Two dealt with

one drug court and were assessed as one evaluation because one was a

follow-up to the other and contained the same methodology and


To determine DOJ's responsibilities and plans for implementing the

federal grant program, we met with representatives of the Office of

Justice Programs, DOJ. We held discussions and reviewed documents

regarding their responsibilities and plans for implementing the

federally supported drug court program. We also obtained drug court

funding information from the Department of Health and Human Services'

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Our review was done from January 1995 to April 1995 in accordance

with generally accepted government auditing standards.


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3

In April 1995, we provided a draft of this report for comment to the

Attorney General and the Project Director of the Drug Court Resource


On April 21, 1995, we discussed the report with the Project Director

of the Drug Court Resource Center. On May 5, 1995, we also discussed

the report with the Deputy Assistant Attorney General and other

officials from DOJ's Office of Justice Programs. These officials

generally agreed with the information presented in the report and

provided comments that we incorporated as appropriate.

DOJ officials said the report was positive, informative, and will be

helpful to drug court professionals. They explained that there is no

universal model for drug courts, and as a result, each drug court

operates differently due to local needs and conditions. Similarly,

the Project Director of the Drug Court Resource Center said that the

information presented in the report was comprehensive, accurate, and


---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :3.1

We are sending copies of this briefing report to other interested

congressional committees and Members and the Attorney General.

Copies will also be made available to others upon request.

The major contributors to this briefing report are listed in appendix

IV. If you have any questions about this report, please call me on

(202) 512-8777.

Norman J. Rabkin

Director, Administration

of Justice Issues

Briefing Section I DRUG COURTS

============================================================== Letter


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4

(See figure in printed


In the late 1980s, state and local criminal courts were inundated

with drug cases. One response to this challenge was the creation of

drug courts, a relatively recent grassroots movement to deal with

drug-related crime and drug-using defendants.

According to DOJ, two main types of drug courts have evolved, those

that (1) expedite the processing of drug cases and (2) use

court-monitored drug treatment to attempt to achieve changes in

defendants' drug-using behavior. In addition, some drug courts

combine these two types.

The 1994 Crime Act authorizes grants for those drug courts that have

programs offering court supervised drug treatment. The act does not

authorize grants for courts designed solely to expedite the

processing of drug cases. This briefing report provides information

on drug treatment courts.

Courts offering court-monitored drug treatment are referred to as

"drug treatment courts" or simply "drug courts." Although there is no

standard definition applicable to drug treatment courts, the National

Association of Drug Court Professionals\3 defines them as follows:

"A Drug Court is a special court given the responsibility to

handle cases involving less serious drug using-offenders through

a supervision and treatment program. These programs include

frequent drug testing, judicial and probation supervision, drug

counseling, treatment, educational opportunities, and the use of

sanctions and incentives."

One of the first drug courts to employ drug treatment as an integral

part of the processing of drug felonies is located in Dade County

(Miami), FL, and began operations in June 1989. This court became a

model for other jurisdictions that implemented drug courts.

Although drug courts share certain common elements such as

court-monitored treatment, the courts are uniquely designed to meet

local needs and can vary considerably in the way they operate.

Organizationally, drug courts generally are distinct parts of trial



\3 This is the principal organization of professionals involved in

the development of treatment-oriented drug courts. Its members

include judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment service

providers, educators, researchers, and community leaders.


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5

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---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :5.1

According to a report provided by the Drug Court Resource Center,

drug courts have generally taken two approaches to processing cases:

(1) deferred prosecution and (2) postadjudication. In the deferred

prosecution approach, shortly after being charged, defendants waive

their right to a speedy trial and enter a treatment program.

Defendants who fail to complete the treatment program have their

charges adjudicated. Defendants who complete the treatment program

are not prosecuted further or have their charges dismissed. This

approach is intended to capitalize on the trauma of arrest and offers

defendants the opportunity to obtain treatment and avoid the

possibility of a felony conviction.

In the postadjudication approach, defendants are tried and convicted,

but their sentences are deferred or pronounced and incarceration is

suspended until they complete or withdraw from the treatment program.

This approach provides an incentive for the defendant to rehabilitate

because progress toward rehabilitation is factored into the

sentencing determination.

Appendix I presents examples of how cases are processed under the two

drug court approaches.



------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6

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---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :6.1

According to the Drug Court Resource Center, drug courts generally

accept defendants with substance abuse problems who are currently

charged with drug possession and/or other nonviolent offenses such as

property crimes. Some drug courts accept defendants who have prior

convictions, and others do not.

The Project Director of the Drug Court Resource Center also pointed

out that drug courts do not accept defendants currently charged with

a violent offense. The Project Director further commented that most

drug courts do not accept defendants with prior violent offenses.

However, at least one drug court accepts defendants regardless of

prior offenses possibly including defendants with prior convictions

for violent crimes. Under the 1994 Crime Act, federal grants cannot

be awarded to any drug court that allows either current or past

violent offenders to participate in its program.


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7

(See figure in printed



---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :7.1

According to a DOJ-funded report on the first national drug court

conference,\4 judicial leadership is the foundation on which the

overall drug court approach is most often built. A jurisdiction's

trial court provides the leadership, authority, and management

capacity to enable the drug court to operate. The drug court is

headed by a judge whose role is generally expanded beyond normal

court duties to include active involvement in monitoring the status

of defendants in the treatment program. The judge's duties may

include conducting hearings, reviewing treatment progress reports,

issuing bench warrants, and deciding who may enter the program and

who should be terminated considering recommendations of prosecutors,

public defenders, and treatment providers.

The judiciary alone, however, cannot successfully implement and

operate a drug court, according to the conference report. Rather, a

drug court requires a special collaborative effort among judges,

prosecutors, defense attorneys, and related criminal justice agencies

along with treatment providers and other social services and

community organizations. This collaborative effort is based on local

needs and the targeted population being served and may differ

considerably among drug courts.

Specifically, drug courts create new and different roles for

prosecutors and defense attorneys. In most drug courts these players

are not adversaries in the traditional sense but rather are to work

in concert with the court for the sole purpose of helping defendants

become drug free. This nonadversarial role is significant because

the court does not arbitrate in the usual fashion and has the

opportunity to address addiction-related issues. Further, drug

courts place the defendant in the unique role of being held publicly

accountable for his or her actions.


\4 Justice and Treatment Innovation: The Drug Court Movement, A

Working Paper of the First National Drug Court Conference, December

1993, John S. Goldkamp, October 1994.



------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8

(See figure in printed




---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :8.1

According to the Drug Court Resource Center, in most drug courts,

treatment is designed to usually last at least 1 year and is

administered on an outpatient basis with limited inpatient treatment

as needed to address special detoxification or relapse situations.\5

These courts operate with the philosophy that because drug addiction

is a disease relapses can occur, and that the court must respond with

progressive sanctions and/or enhance treatment rather than

immediately terminate a participant.

The central element of all drug court programs is attendance at the

regularly scheduled status hearings at which the drug court judge

monitors the progress of participants. Monitoring is based on

treatment provider reports on urine test results that detect drug

use, attendance at counseling, etc. The judge reinforces progress

and addresses noncompliance with program requirements. The primary

objective of the status hearing is to keep the defendant in



\5 These programs recognize that some individuals will require a

longer period to complete the program.


------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9

(See figure in printed



---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :9.1

Overall, according to the Drug Court Resource Center, treatment

program requirements are more demanding than the applicable sanction

received through traditional adjudication. Most drug court programs

require that defendants attend status hearings, participate in

counseling sessions, and submit to urine tests with the goal of

becoming drug free. Some programs focus on special classes of

defendants such as women. Many programs also provide support

services such as public health services; assistance with housing,

food, and child care; vocational training; and job placement.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :10.1

Treatment services are generally divided into three phases: (1)

detoxification, (2) stabilization, and (3) aftercare. First, the

defendant's physical dependence on drugs is eliminated through

detoxification. Acupuncture is sometimes used as an adjunct to

treatment in the detoxification phase. According to the Project

Director of the Drug Court Resource Center, 9 of 20 drug courts

responding to the Center's 1994 survey indicated that they used

acupuncture. Second, the defendant's psychological craving for the

drugs is treated during stabilization. Frequent group and/or

individual counseling sessions are employed during this phase. And

third, aftercare focuses on helping the defendant obtain education or

job training, find a job, and remain drug free.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :11

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :11.1

Sanctions for failing to abide by program rules can include (1)

verbal admonition from the judge; (2) demotion to an earlier stage of

the program; (3) incarceration for several days or weeks, increasing

with the number and severity of the violations; and (4) more frequent

status hearings, treatment sessions, or urine tests. Many programs

also use graduated sanctions, increasing the severity of the sanction

with subsequent violations of program rules.

DOJ also pointed out that most drug courts use sanctions not to

simply punish inappropriate behavior but to augment the treatment

process. For example, many drug courts will place a defendant in

residential treatment if he or she is unable to achieve satisfactory

progress in an outpatient setting. In addition, many drug courts

incarcerate defendants for the purpose of detoxification rather than

detain them for inappropriate behavior.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :12

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :12.1

Drug courts use various criteria for ending a defendant's

participation in the program before completion. These may include a

new felony offense; multiple failures to comply with program

requirements, such as not attending status hearings or treatment

sessions; and a pattern of positive urine tests. According to DOJ,

many drug courts do not terminate defendants for a new drug

possession offense.

Before terminating a defendant for continuing to use drugs, drug

courts will use an array of treatment services and available

sanctions. There are no uniform standards for the number of failed

urine tests and failures to attend treatment sessions that result in

a participant being terminated that apply to all programs. Each drug

court sets its own standards. Relapses are expected and the extent

to which noncompliance results in terminations varies from program to


Generally, the drug court judge makes the decision to terminate, but

the prosecutor or treatment provider can recommend the termination.

Once a defendant is terminated, he or she will be referred for

adjudication or sentencing.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :13

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :13.1

Drug courts typically require defendants to complete a treatment

program in order to graduate. Some impose other conditions

defendants must meet after treatment. These could include remaining

drug free and not being arrested for a specified period of time,

paying restitution, being employed full-time, or performing community


For example, the Seattle, WA, drug court requires that a defendant

complete all phases of the program to graduate. However, the

Beaumont, TX, drug court requires that, in addition to completing the

treatment program, the defendant maintain sobriety for a specified

time and participate in education and vocational training and/or be

working full-time.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :14

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :14.1

In many jurisdictions, completion of the drug court program leads to

a dismissal of charges or cessation of prosecution. In others, the

guilty plea can be stricken, the defendant can be sentenced to

probation in lieu of incarceration, or the defendant's probation can

be shortened.

DOJ pointed out that some drug courts will seal all case records,

including arrests, when defendants complete the program. The sealing

of records is particularly significant when attempting to measure the

impact of drug court programs at a later date.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :15

(See figure in printed


Note: One drug court was

started in March 1995.

(See figure in printed


Source: GAO and Drug Court

Resource Center data.

(See figure in printed



STARTED, 1989-1994

--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :15.1

According to the Drug Court Resource Center, as of March 1995, there

were at least 37 drug courts operating across the country.\6 Of these

drug courts, 29 had been fully operational for at least 9 months, and

8 others had been operating for a lesser period.

The number of drug courts steadily increased from 1991 to 1994, with

substantial increases since 1993. As of March 1995, 24 jurisdictions

were developing drug courts. Another eight jurisdictions had

exhibited interest in starting drug courts by initiating feasibility


Appendix II lists the number of drug courts in operation and being



\6 Because of the absence of any official requirement to report their

existence to a central organization, additional drug courts may



MARCH 1995

----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :16

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Source: Drug Court Resource

Center data.

(See figure in printed



MARCH 1995

--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :16.1

According to the Drug Court Resource Center, the 37 drug courts in

operation as of March 1995 are located in 15 states and the District

of Columbia. The largest number of drug courts are located in

Florida, with 10, followed by California, with 6. There are two drug

courts in each of six states, and there is one drug court in each of

the remaining eight states and the District of Columbia. The

specific location of each drug court is shown in appendix II.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :17

(See figure in printed


N = 20,421

(See figure in printed


Note 1: Based on responses

from 33 drug courts.

(See figure in printed


Note 2: Percentages do not add

to 100 percent due to rounding.

(See figure in printed


Source: GAO questionnaires.

(See figure in printed




--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :17.1

Data obtained from 33 of 37 drug courts responding to our

questionnaire showed that since inception of the first drug court in

1989, 20,421 persons have participated in drug courts. Of these,

7,235 participants have graduated, and 7,595 are currently in the

programs. The remaining participants did not complete the programs.

Generally, when participants do not complete drug court programs it

is because they were terminated, voluntarily withdrew, or died.

Based on the data received, these totaled 5,591.\7

The number of participants currently in each of these drug court

programs varied widely, ranging from a low of 1 participant in Santa

Ana, CA, a new drug court,\8 to a high of 1,200 participants in

Miami, FL, one of the oldest drug courts. The median number of

participants in these drug court programs is 105.

It should be noted that many of the drug courts have been operating

for less than a year and would not yet have graduates. As shown,

more than one-third of the total participants are currently enrolled

in drug court programs.


\7 We calculated the number (5,591) of participants not completing

the programs by subtracting the number (7,235) of graduates and the

number (7,595) of participants currently in the programs from the

total number (20,421) of participants in the programs since their


\8 At the time of our review, Orange County, CA, had filed for

bankruptcy and curtailed resources for its drug court.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :18

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According to the Drug Court Resource Center Project Director, drug

courts generally piece together funding from a variety of sources.

Information reported to the Drug Court Resource Center by 15 drug

courts showed that these sources included local taxes and surcharges,

state alcohol and drug agency funds, private foundation monies,

participant fees, and federal grants.

Some drug courts have developed innovative funding approaches. For

example, a drug court judge from Orange County, CA, told us that when

the county filed for bankruptcy, it cut back services necessary for

the drug court operation. The judge said that he was forming a

nonprofit corporation to try to provide funding for the drug court

outside of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Until the 1994 Crime Act, there was no federal grant program

specifically designed for drug courts. However, some drug courts

have received federal grants and technical assistance from the

Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Substance Abuse

Treatment (CSAT) and DOJ's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

According to CSAT, it has provided or plans to provide an estimated

$15 million in assistance to some drug courts. Of the $15 million,

about $6 million is for a drug court demonstration project for the

District of Columbia Superior Court.

BJA could not provide us with complete information on DOJ grants used

in support of drug courts. According to a BJA official, "drug

courts" was not a specific grant category that grantees could

designate for funding. However, this official commented that BJA is

aware that DOJ grant funds provided under other grant categories such

as "corrections options" have been used in support of drug courts,

and that three drug courts had received $2.5 million from the

Corrections Options program.\9


\9 The Corrections Options program assists states with design,

development, and implementation of innovative alternatives to

traditional modes of incarceration.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :19

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :19.1

We obtained data (based on our questionnaire and information provided

by the Drug Court Resource Center) from 34 drug courts on fees

charged to participants in drug court programs. Twenty-three of the

34 drug courts reported that they charged fees, and 11 reported that

they did not. Insufficient data on fee amounts actually collected

precluded us from determining the extent to which drug courts relied

on participant fees as a funding source.

Of the 23 drug courts charging participant fees, the amounts charged

for the total cost of treatment ranged from $20 to $2,500. One drug

court reported charging fees on a sliding scale from $60 to $300 for

treatment based on a defendant's ability to pay, while another

reported charging on a sliding scale from $500 to $2,500. At least

nine courts responded that they charged fees ranging from $200 to


Several drug courts reported applying participant fees to counseling

and treatment costs, drug testing costs, and other program expenses.

In addition, DOJ commented that many treatment providers believe

participant fees are a useful therapeutic tool and should be charged

regardless of the extent to which fees are needed to cover program



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :20

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--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :20.1

Drug courts have reported information to the Drug Court Resource

Center on savings that they believe their programs have achieved in

the costs of court and other criminal justice system operations.

One of the larger categories of savings reported by drug courts was

jail costs avoided, i.e., the estimated costs of incarcerating a

typical drug court defendant that would be expected to incur if

he/she were not participating in a drug court program. One court

estimated savings of $5,400 per drug court participant, and another

estimated savings of $2,566 to $5,185.

Another drug court claimed a savings of $2 million over a 3-year

period resulting from drug court participants spending fewer days in

custody and the consequent ability of the county to rent unused jail

cells to other law enforcement agencies. Still another drug court

estimated it had saved about $875,500 in jail costs for its program

but did not specify the time frame.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals noted that drug

court programs are much less costly than the incarceration of

drug-using offenders. The Association reported that incarceration of

drug-using offenders ranges from $20,000 to $50,000 annually, and the

cost to build a prison cell is $80,000 to $90,000. It also said that

drug courts cost less than $1,500 annually for each offender.

Some drug courts identified savings such as reduced caseloads of

other trial judges not in the drug court program. In addition, some

drug courts claimed savings in court-appointed attorney fees, reduced

probation office caseloads, and costs of prosecution, arrests, and

police overtime.

We did not verify this information, and further analysis of all drug

court costs is essential to fully understanding the benefits of these


Briefing Section II EVALUATIONS OF


============================================================== Letter



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :21

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In evaluating the effectiveness of drug courts, the basic question

is: Do drug courts make a difference? Specifically, do defendants

who successfully complete drug court programs exhibit reduced

recidivism, decreased drug use, and other socially beneficial effects

as a result of participating in drug court programs when compared to

their counterparts, i.e., control groups who were not exposed to the

same drug court treatment?

Based on evaluations we reviewed, drug courts generally may have some

beneficial effects. However, because of the nature of the study

designs and the short periods of time elapsed between treatment and

measurement of outcomes (drug courts are relatively new), firm

conclusions cannot be drawn about the effects of drug courts.

It is both difficult and costly to conduct program evaluations that

can measure program effects. Although the strongest design involves

assembling and randomly assigning defendants to control groups

(comparing drug courts versus traditional courts, for example), such

studies raise serious logistical and ethical issues. Additionally,

according to the Project Director of the Drug Court Resource Center,

control groups cannot be used properly unless a drug court is

originally designed to define such groups.

An alternative approach is to design studies allowing the researcher

to create comparable groups from existing programs, through the use

of various analytical techniques. However, even such studies are

often made more difficult by the fact that existing programs change

over time, resulting in individuals at the end of the study period

being exposed to different treatments than those at the beginning.

Also, different locations of the same program may have very different

implementation needs, making it more difficult to compare such




----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :22

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We assessed six evaluations that compared performance outcomes for

drug court defendants to the experiences of other defendants, i.e.,

previous divertees or unsuccessful drug court defendants or

defendants who had never been in a drug court. In order to determine

whether a drug court has an impact on its participants, an evaluation

should compare outcomes of drug court defendants to those of other

groups of similar defendants who are not in drug courts.

The six evaluations covered five drug courts and varied considerably

in terms of the study designs, types of outcomes measured, and scope

of analyses performed on the available information. Our assessment

indicates that the evaluations differed particularly in terms of the

validity of the designs, which determine the extent to which the

reader is able to draw conclusions from any findings. Of the six


two studies had fairly strong designs; of these, one provided some

evidence of an effect of the drug court program, and the other

study's results were too preliminary to draw any conclusions;

two studies had designs with more serious problems; of these, one

suggested possible effects of the program, and the other was

inconclusive; and

two studies had design weaknesses that prevented any conclusions

about the effects of the program.

The major outcome measure used, in five of the six evaluations, was

recidivism (rearrest rates). To a lesser degree, recidivism-related

measures were also used, such as length of time before rearrest and

days spent in custody for felony offenses. We focused on these

measures in this report because they provided the strongest evidence

for the long-term effect of the drug court programs, even though

other measures were used in these studies.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :23

(See figure in printed


Two of the six evaluations were well-designed. However, the results

in terms of recidivism outcomes were mixed. One of the evaluations

showed that drug court defendants had significantly lower rearrest

rates than defendants not in drug court, and that they spent fewer

days in custody for felony offenses (app. III, evaluation 1). This

evaluation also showed that drug court defendants had a lower rate of

failures-to-appear for required court hearings than did other

defendants. However, the other evaluation, with preliminary

information only, showed no significant difference so far in rearrest

rates between drug court defendants and defendants who were not in

the drug court (app. III, evaluation 2).

Although these evaluations have strong study designs and one

indicates some beneficial effects on defendants resulting from the

drug court programs, the evidence does not permit firm conclusions

about the effects of the drug courts studied. Additionally, for one

of the evaluations, insufficient time had elapsed to provide firmer

evidence of program effect.

Of the next two evaluations, both of the same drug court, one

provided some suggestive evidence of program effect. It showed lower

recidivism by drug court defendants and longer time before rearrest

(app. III, evaluation 3). The other generally showed no difference

in recidivism rates (app. III, evaluation 4). Design problems made

it difficult to attribute these findings to the programs. There are

too many potential differences between the drug court participants

and the groups to which they were compared to develop strong


The final two evaluations did not provide reliable evidence

concerning the effects of the programs. One showed no substantial

difference in recidivism between drug court defendants and defendants

who left the drug court (app. III, evaluation 5). The other

evaluation measured defendants' drug abstinence and failure-to-appear

rates and showed positive results for drug court defendants as

compared to defendants terminated from the drug court (app. III,

evaluation 6). Because the study design did not control for a number

of factors, such as motivation and susceptibility to treatment, these

evaluations do not permit conclusions to be drawn about the effects

of the programs.

Appendix III contains further information on each of these


Briefing Section III FEDERAL DRUG


============================================================== Letter


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :24

(See figure in printed



--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :24.1

Beginning in fiscal year 1995, DOJ may provide jurisdictions with

drug court grants. Title V of the Violent Crime Control and Law

Enforcement Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-322) authorizes the Attorney

General to award discretionary drug court grants to states, units of

local government, Indian tribal governments, and state and local

courts. Grants may be awarded to drug court programs when a judge

continuously supervises the progress of nonviolent offenders with

substance abuse problems.

The act requires the Attorney General to issue regulations to ensure

that jurisdictions receiving drug court grants to support their

programs do not allow violent offenders to participate. It defines a

violent offender as a person who is charged with or convicted of an

offense involving a firearm, dangerous weapon, death, serious bodily

injury, or force; or who has one or more prior convictions for a

violent felony crime.

Drug court programs must also integrate a number of judicial

sanctions and treatment services. Specifically, the act requires

programs to include (1) mandatory periodic testing for the use of

addictive substances; (2) substance abuse treatment; (3) diversion,

probation, or other supervised releases with the possibility of

prosecution, confinement, or incarceration when participants do not

comply with program requirements or fail to show satisfactory

progress; and (4) program and aftercare services, such as relapse

prevention, health care, education, vocational training, job

placement, housing placement, and child care.


----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :25

(See figure in printed




--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :25.1

The 1994 Crime Act authorized a total of $1 billion for fiscal years

1995 through 2000 to support drug court programs. Although the act

authorized $100 million for fiscal year 1995, DOJ's fiscal year 1995

Appropriations Act (Public Law 103-317) included only $29 million for

the drug court program. However, Congress has proposed fiscal year

1995 budget cuts for the drug court program. On March 16, 1995, the

House passed H.R. 1158, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations

Act of 1995, which rescinds $27.75 million for the drug court

program. During its consideration of H.R. 1158, the Senate reduced

the rescission to $17.1 million. On April 6, 1995, the Senate passed

its version of the bill and requested a conference with the House.

The House and Senate conferees began May 3, 1995, to try to reconcile

the separate provisions of the bill.

The President's fiscal year 1996 budget requests $150 million for

drug court grants. However, H.R. 667 (The Violent Crime

Incarceration Act of 1995) passed by the House of Representatives on

February 10, 1995, would amend Title V of the 1994 Crime Act and in

doing so would repeal the 1994 Crime Act's drug court discretionary

grant provisions. On February 22, 1995, H.R. 667 was referred to

the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :26

(See figure in printed


DOJ recognizes that no single model exists for an effective drug

court. Consequently, DOJ plans to maintain flexibility in awarding

grants to programs that use a variety of approaches to coordinate

drug treatment and persuade offenders to abstain from drugs with the

goal of becoming drug free. In addition, given the great diversity

in the structure and operation of state and local courts and criminal

justice systems, DOJ plans to allow jurisdictions to tailor local

initiatives to best suit their needs and local conditions.

DOJ's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has overall responsibility for

the new federal drug court program, including policy setting. To

carry out this responsibility, OJP has hired an acting director and

policy analyst to staff its Drug Court Program Office. In addition,

BJA, an office of OJP, recently established a Drug Court Program

Office to manage and monitor drug court program grants, according to

an OJP official. BJA has hired four people to staff this office.

Since November 1994, OJP and BJA staffs have worked together to

develop program guidelines and application materials.\10

Currently, these staffs are considering the most appropriate and

effective ways of providing technical assistance to federally

supported drug courts, operating drug courts, and related federal

projects to be funded with other fiscal year 1995 resources. The

level and source of funding to support this technical assistance is

also under review.

OJP's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is responsible for funding

a national evaluation of drug court program impacts. This evaluation

will assess whether federally supported drug court programs have

helped their participants to break the cycle of substance abuse and

crime. It will also assess the cost-effectiveness of these programs.

NIJ is also responsible for ensuring that drug court programs use

part of their grants to conduct process evaluations. These are aimed

at determining, among other things, if the drug court is achieving

its objectives, if it was implemented as originally intended, and

whether major changes are appropriate. They will also examine how

drug courts affect the rest of the court system and other elements of

the criminal justice system.


\10 In March 1995, DOJ published Drug Court Grant Program Guidelines

and Application Information.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :27

(See figure in printed




--------------------------------------------------------- Letter :27.1

If Congress does not rescind the fiscal year 1995 appropriation, DOJ

plans to award grants for planning, implementing, and improving or

enhancing drug court programs. Eligible applicants may apply only

for one type of grant. Assuming no rescission is enacted, of the $29

million appropriated for fiscal year 1995, DOJ plans to award up to

100 planning grants for not more than $35,000 each to jurisdictions

interested in establishing drug courts,

10 implementation grants for not more than $1 million each to

jurisdictions that have identified their target populations and

case processing procedures,

3 additional implementation grants for not more than $2 million to

larger jurisdictions with populations exceeding 1 million, and

20 improvement and enhancement grants for not more than $1 million

to jurisdictions that have already established drug courts.

Federal grants for each drug court program will be 75 percent of

program costs. The grantees will be required to provide cash to fund

the remaining 25 percent.

Applications are due by May 23, 1995. Then, OJP and BJA staffs will

focus on screening and processing qualified applications for

potential grant awards, pending final congressional action on the

fiscal year 1995 budget rescission. If the current deadline for

filing drug court applications does not change, the first grants are

expected to be awarded in the summer of 1995.



----------------------------------------------------------- Letter :28

(See figure in printed


Evaluating effectiveness is a critical element of the federal drug

court program. The 1994 Crime Act authorizes the Attorney General to

carry out or make arrangements for evaluations of programs that

receive discretionary program grants. The act also mandates us to

study and assess the effectiveness and impact of these discretionary

grants and report to the Congress by January 1, 1997.

OJP program guidelines require recipients of drug court grants to

cooperate with a national evaluation team. The evaluation will be

aimed at measuring program impact primarily through the use of the

following criteria:

reduction in recidivism rates of program participants,

maintenance of acceptable treatment completion rates,

decreased participant drug use, and

maintenance of a cost-effective program.

NIJ is responsible for overseeing the national evaluation. The

evaluation will focus on treatment and its impact and is expected to

take at least 2 years to complete. At the time of our review, NIJ

was developing the solicitation for proposals to conduct the


Program guidelines also require each drug court grant recipient to

conduct process evaluations of their programs. For these

evaluations, grantees are expected to collect descriptive information

on the role of drug court players, potential eligible population, and

participant program characteristics. Grantees will also be asked to

collect information on program procedures used to identify and screen

eligible offenders, accept and assess offenders, respond to relapses,

manage and monitor cases, and discharge and refer participants.



=========================================================== Appendix I

(See figure in printed


\a Judges may reward progress and impose sanctions for noncompliance

with program requirements.

Source: Drug Court Resource

Center and GAO analysis of

selected drug court program


(See figure in printed





========================================================== Appendix II

In About to

Location operation start Planned

------------------------ ---------- ---------- ----------


Mobile 1


Phoenix 1


Little Rock 1


Bakersfield 1

East Bay Corridor 1

El Monte 1\a

Los Angeles 1

Oakland 1

Riverside 1

Sacramento 1

Santa Ana 1\a

San Bernardino 1\a 1

San Francisco 1


Hartford 1


Denver 1


Wilmington 1

District of Columbia

Washington 1


Bartow 1\a

Crestview 1

Ft. Lauderdale 1

Gainesville 1

Jacksonville 1\a

Key West 1

Miami 1

Orlando 1

Panama City 1

Pensacola 1 1

Tallahassee 1

Tampa 1


Atlanta 1


Honolulu 1


Chicago 1


Gary 1


Wichita 1


Louisville 1


Baltimore 2\a


Dorchester 1


Kalamazoo 1

St. Joseph 1


Kansas City 1


Las Vegas 1

Reno 1\a

New Mexico

Las Cruces 1

New York

Rochester 1\b


Akron 1

Cincinnati 1

Cleveland 1

Sandusky 1


Eugene 1

Portland 1

South Carolina

Columbia 1


Austin 1

Beaumont 1

Fort Worth 1


Salt Lake City 1


Seattle 1

Tacoma 1\a

Spokane 1


Total 37 5 19


\a Drug courts in operation less than 9 months. Includes one of the

two Baltimore drug courts.

\b In commenting on a draft of this report, the Project Director of

the Drug Court Resource Center told us that a drug court in Rochester

began operating on a pilot basis in early 1995.

Source: Drug Court Resource Center data.




========================================================= Appendix III



------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1.0.1

Drug use defendants granted admission to a diversion program.

Admission requirements changed during the course of the study.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1.0.2

Comparison of 110 defendants in a program with a similar group of 110

defendants in a different program a year earlier.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1.0.3

Drug court participants referred in January and February of 1991;

earlier group referred in January 1990 through March of 1990. The

report contained a 3-year follow-up study.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1.0.4

(1)Felony rearrests: Drug court defendants had a lower average rate

of felony rearrests per defendants (0.75) than had previous divertees


(2)Days in custody for felony offenses: Drug court defendants, on

average, spent fewer days in custody per defendant (44) than had

previous divertees (78).

(3)Bench warrants: Drug court defendants, on average, had fewer

bench warrants issued for failures to appear at court hearings (0.67)

than had previous divertees (1.1).


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:1.0.5

There were some questions concerning the comparability of the two

groups, as well as the eligibility requirements for the two programs.

(The report stated that eligibility requirements were relaxed for the

drug court program participants in order to obtain a broader group

for comparative purposes.) In spite of these concerns, the evaluation

suggested some fairly strong evidence of program success after 3



------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2.0.1

Offenders sentenced to probation for first-time drug possession



--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2.0.2

Random assignment to four groups:

(1)No drug testing, frequent visits (n=approximately 154).

(2)Monthly random drug testing, occasional visits (n=approximately


(3)Biweekly scheduled drug testing, limited visits (n=approximately


(4)Drug court, with testing and treatment supervised by a probation

officer (n=177).


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2.0.3

Participants in program between March 1992 and April 1993. Current

data reported only preliminary findings after 6 months.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2.0.4

(1)Rearrest rates: No statistically significant differences (16.95

percent for the drug court group vs. 15.37 percent for others).

(2)Rates of technical probation violations: Drug court group had

lower rates than those of others (7.9 percent vs. 11.9 percent).


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:2.0.5

Although the evaluation design was quite strong, the results were

preliminary; insufficient time had elapsed to provide a firm

indication of program effect. Future comparisons may be complicated

by the fact that the drug court sample had lower rates of reported

history of prior marijuana use. Otherwise, the control groups

(groups 1-3) were quite similar to the drug court group (group 4).



------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3.0.1

Persons arrested for 2nd and 3rd degree drug-related felonies.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3.0.2

Five key groups:\11

(1)Persons admitted to drug court program (n=326).

(2)Sample of felony drug defendants in same period not eligible

because of more serious drug-related offenses (n=199).

(3)Sample of nondrug felony defendants in same period (n=185).

(4)Sample of felony drug defendants in period several years earlier


(5)Sample of felony nondrug defendants in period several years

earlier (n=536).

In addition, the evaluation compared persons completing the drug

court program with those failing to complete.


\11 An additional sample of offenders could not reliably be used as a

control group because they were exposed to the drug court program.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3.0.3

Participants in groups 1-3 had charges filed in August 1990 and

September 1990. Charges for groups 4-5 were filed in the summer of

1987. Data report results after 18 month follow-up.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3.0.4

(1)Rearrest rates: Drug court defendants were rearrested at a

statistically significant lower rate (33 percent, vs. 40 percent to

53 percent for other groups).

(2)Time before rearrest: Drug court defendants had statistically

significant longer time before rearrest (median of 235 days, vs. 52

to 115 days for other groups).

(3)Rearrests and treatment completion: Rearrest rates were

associated with failure to complete the treatment program.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:3.0.5

The results suggested an effect of the program. However, the study

design was unable to make the comparison with offenders in the same

situation with similarly serious drug offenses; therefore, the

results must be interpreted cautiously. In particular, the drug

court sample had fewer prior arrests than had the other comparison

groups, and the key group of felony drug defendants used for

comparative purposes were not eligible for the drug court program

because of the seriousness of their charges or prior records.

The comparisons between those completing and failing to complete the

program must also be viewed with caution, due to possible

motivational and other differences between the groups.

In commenting on a draft of this report, DOJ officials noted that

this study had a strong design with carefully drawn comparison

groups. We agree that the study's design was generally strong.

However, as we state in this report, there were some potentially

important differences in prior arrest rates between the groups, and

the study was not able to compare similarly situated drug defendants

in a roughly similar time period. Therefore, as we noted, the

study's results should be interpreted cautiously.



------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4.0.1

Defendants with no prior convictions charged with a drug possession

offense, admitting to a drug problem for which they wanted treatment.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4.0.2

Comparison of 318 defendants assigned to the drug court with a sample

of 99 narcotics cases in early 1988. In addition, a group of drug

court defendants who were accepted into the drug court program were

compared on rearrest rates.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4.0.3

Participants were assigned to the drug court in January 1990 through

March 1990. The comparison group was charged between January 1988

and March 1988.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4.0.4

(1)Rearrest rates: There was no statistically significant difference

in the rate of felony rearrests after 1 year between those assigned

to drug court (32 percent) and the comparison group of defendants

charged 2 years earlier (33 percent). Those defendants accepted by

the drug court did have lower rates of rearrest (15 percent), but the

authors noted that these individuals constituted "a highly select

group . . . least disposed to commit new crimes." The rearrest

results in this evaluation differed from those in the other

evaluation of Dade County (evaluation 3).

(2)Sentencing dispositions: There were statistically significant

differences in dispositions between those assigned to drug court and

the comparison group of earlier defendants. Those assigned to drug

court were more likely not to face further prosecution and less

likely to serve probation or short jail terms.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:4.0.5

There were concerns about the comparability of the participants in

the various groups. In particular, the finding of lower rearrest

rates for program participants should be viewed cautiously in light

of the selectivity of admission to the program. As a result, there

were strong reservations about the results reported.

DOJ officials, in commenting on a draft of this report, indicated

that this study had several flaws. They pointed out that the study

was done when this drug court was less than 10 months old. They

further noted that information on successful drug court participants

was not available for evaluation because the participants' records

were sealed. We concur with these comments.



------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5.0.1

First-time offenders arrested for possession or purchase of cocaine.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5.0.2

Comparison of 392 defendants completing or remaining in the drug

court program with 241 defendants not completing the drug court



--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5.0.3

Participants entered the program from July 1991 through June 1992.

Study results were reported for October 1993.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5.0.4

Rearrests: Persons remaining in the program committed felonies at a

slightly lower rate than did those leaving the program (7.7 percent

vs. 12.0 percent). (Cases dismissed were not included in these

comparisons.) No differences occurred in comparing the proportions

having committed misdemeanors (4.1 percent for persons remaining in

the program vs. 5.0 percent for those leaving the program).


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:5.0.5

There was no adequate comparison group in this study from which to

draw any conclusions about the effect of the program.


------------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6.0.1

Defendants arrested for possession of any illegal substance for

personal use.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6.0.2

Comparison of 105 defendants graduating from the drug court program

with 78 defendants who terminated unsuccessfully.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6.0.3

Participants entered the program on or before August 1, 1992, and

graduated or terminated unsuccessfully on or before April 1, 1994.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6.0.4

Graduates had lower rates of bench warrants for failure to appear,

went slightly longer before the first bench warrant was issued, and

had a lower percentage of positive urine tests than those who

terminated unsuccessfully. However, the report did not indicate

whether these figures referred to prior histories or follow-up

information after program completion.


--------------------------------------------------- Appendix III:6.0.5

There was no adequate comparison group in this study from which to

draw any conclusions about the effect of the program.



========================================================== Appendix IV



Weldon McPhail, Assistant Director, Administration of Justice


Samuel A. Caldrone, Senior Evaluator

Deborah A. Knorr, Senior Evaluator

Patricia J. Scanlon, Staff Evaluator

Barry J. Seltser, Assistant Director, Design, Methodology and

Technical Assistance Group

Douglas M. Sloane, Assistant Director

David P. Alexander, Senior Social Science Analyst

Arthur J. Kendall, Senior Mathematical Statistician

Katherine M. Wheeler, Publishing Advisor

Pamela V. Williams, Communications Analyst


Brenda R. James Towe, Evaluator-in-Charge

Rudolf F. Plessing, Core Group Manager

Michael Savino, Senior Evaluator



Ann H. Finley, Senior Attorney


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