Multinational Drug Court Report Shows Cuts in Recidivism

A recently released report prepared by American University, in conjunction with the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission (CICAD), for the OAS’s April 21-23, 2010 Drug Summit in Lugo, Spain provides proof positive that activities by “drug courts” (DTC’s) in multiple countries effectively and dramatically appear to be reducing offender recidivism rates, while providing significant financial incentives to governmental jurisdictions employing these diversionary alternative sentencing procedures. The report, “Establishing Drug Treatment Courts: Strategies, Experiences and Preliminary Outcomes,” delineates for 12 nations, country by country participating in these programs, the methodologies, legal system cost impacts, and recidivism successes achieved to date. The report is not easy reading, but well worth the time spent by investigators seeking the knowledge therein. Volume I, 131 pages long, is an overview with summary survey results and reports for the DTC’s in each of the countries responding to the CICAD survey, while Volume II is the 267-page appendix of supporting materials. This Slammer editorial is designed to provide a quick glimpse of the merits of the report via verbatim extracts of key text and data. -ED

The following exerpts were extracted from the report’s “Preface:”

In the United States, where policies have a global outreach for economic (market size), financial, political and cultural reasons (its condition as the superpower and the reach of its cultural production, mostly audiovisual), priorities are also changing. The idea of a war led by a “drug czar” is being abandoned for a more balanced approach.

Secretary of Strate Clinton has stressed several times the idea of shared responsibility, and the new drug “czar” for the Obama administration, Gil Kerlikowske, in his speech to the 53rd meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2010, presented his assessment: “The results from long-standing initiatives, such as drug courts, and newer alternatives to incarceration including ‘smart’ programs which incorporate swift, certain, but modest sanctions, have been extremely encouraging. We must now expand such initiatives so all those for whom diversion from prison is appropriate, can participate. These innovative programs break the cycle of drug use, arrest, release and re-arrest and are much more cost-effective than long-term incarceration.”

After decades of an approach that favored repression as its main component and that prevailed in many countries, it has become clear that it is an oversimplification. Even if it did not totally disregard the public health aspects of drug dependence, it emphasized the criminal aspect of drug use without attenton to te public health aspect and treatment needs, resulting in the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of non-violent people all over the world; and, worse, with no indication whatsoever of any improvement in chemically- and psychologically-dependent people, and no evidence that the roots of the phenomenon were being addressed. In addition, in those countries in which the prision system has been partially privatized, there is a strong economic motive behind sending people to jail.

Drug courts, or drug treatment courts, the first practice of which started in Florida over 20 years ago, in 1989, represent thus an alternative to incarceration with advantages in critical aspects.

First, they foster the committment of addicts to work on getting rid of their dependence; second, the approach avoids incarceration of drug users who participate in these programs and comply with program requirements, and could, depending on the legislation, be applied to petty, non-violent drug dealers, which would avoid their making contacts inside the prison system that often increase the tendency of first offenders to become more deeply involved in illegal activities, as they meet hardened criminals who no longer harbor any hope of being recovered as law-abiding citizens; third, it avoids or reduces the stigma of danger and unreliability often associated with incarcerated people, thus helping reinsertion and recovery; fourth–and this is also becoming more and more critical–it helps reduce the spiralling rise in costs that countries bear to imprison a large portion of their population, sometimes hopeless and helpless poor youngsters, whose possibilities of a decent life decline even more as they are sent to prison.

Statistics vary from country to country, but certain features are common: many prison systems are bordering on bankruptcy; a vast majority of those in jail come from groups that are economically and socially vulnerable; a large portion of all those incarcerated are in prison for non-violent drug-related crimes.

The following exerpts were extracted from the report’s “Forward:”

Because drug abuse is compulsive, it does not stop at the prison door. In a 2009 survey of prisoners conducted by the Scottish Prison Service, 22% of prisoners reported that they had used drugs in prison in the month prior to the survey.

Treatment alternatives to incarceration for drug-dependent offenders involve diverting substance-abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision. By increasing direct supervision of offenders, coordinating public resources, and expediting case processing, treatment alternatives to incarceration can help break the cycle of criminal behavior, alcohol and drug use, and imprisonment.

The details of these alternative mechanisms vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most involve suspension of the sentence provided the offender agrees voluntarily to participate in a drug treatment program. The judge in the case supervises the offender’s progress in treatment, with the assistance of the prosecutor, social workers (case officers), treatment providers and probation officers. The judge has the power to end the treatment program if the offender violates its terms and conditions, in which case, the sentence will be handed down and the offender will be incarcerated.

The following exerpts were extracted from the main body of Volume I:

With this backdrop, the present publication is designed to begin to fill a critical information gap by providing a preliminary base of information regarding the experience of developing DTCs in various
countries that have embarked on these initiatives and the impact and benefits which these programs have had. Although much still needs to be done, the information compiled from the 12 countries responding to the SE/CICAD survey presents a cogent argument about why DTCs are a good idea, and gives a snapshot of what they cost in terms of human and other resources, what savings they can create for their respective
societies in economic as well as human terms, and what benefits can accrue, particularly in terms of public safety and community wellbeing.

The organization of Volume One of the report mirrors the questions on the CICAD survey instrument, with an introductory section (PartOne) providing a synopsis of the survey responses in key topic areas, followed by a compilation in Part Two of the survey responses to each question from each of the responding countries, including information on the costs and resources that have been necessary to set up and operate DTCs in the responding countries and the impact noted.

The extracted table below shows the enrollment of offenders in the DTC’s of the 12 participating countries:


The first publication will be followed by a second one, building on the summary information compiled during the course of preparing the current one. The overarching goal of this second publication will be to draft a series of Best Practices and Recommendations based on a more in-depth and scientifically based approach. This second report will therefore not only inform on the concept of DTCs, but will also address the questions of how to improve their efficiency, how to validate their effectiveness and how best to
incorporate them in the criminal justice system of the various countries that have already established such a scheme or are planning to do so in the near future.

The following excerpts were extracted from a section on Preliminary Findings:

All respondents with available data reported reduced recidivism rates among participants in the DTC compared to offenders processed in the traditional criminal justice system. Ireland reported figures from two small random assignment studies that showed 75% and 85% reductions in recidivism. Some respondents had comparison figures for the costs for handling offenders in the DTC, compared with the costs in the traditional adjudication process, and reported much lower costs for DTC participants compared to those in the traditional system. Evaluation reports for U.S. DTCs have estimated savings ranging from $3,000 to $20,000 per drug court participant, based on avoided costs of incarceration.

Another notable benefit of DTC participation, besides cost savings, has been the effect of DTC programs on the community. Reductions in recidivism and substance abuse can remove stresses on community services like police and hospital services. Respondents also noted the creation of safer communities resulting from reduced crime. Some also noted that DTC participants gain a chance to be productive
members of their communities and, as a result of their increased self-esteem and improved physical health, are better able to find jobs, reconnect with family and friends, and take greater responsibility for their own lives.

The following excerpt was extracted from one of Volume II’s numerous tables that detail survey results for dozens of summaries (by country) of the impact of DTC’s on recidivism rates, cost effectiveness and community benefits. The U.S. response chosen, because of superior success, was for a January 2009 Rutland County, Vermont evaluation of the cost benefits derived from the drug court in that jurisdiction.

“Program investment cost was $19,405 per drug court participant; cost due to recidivism (rearrests, new court cases, probation, incarceration and victimizations) over 3 years was $48,277 per drug court participant vs.$64,251 per comparison group member, with savings of $15,977 per participant.

Total criminal justice system cost per participant during the program is $5,809 less thn traditional court processing ($9,749 if victimizations are included).

If the program continues to enroll a cohort of 26 new participants annually, savings per participants over 3 years will be $138,441 per cohort; after 5 years, the accumulated savings will be over $2,000,000.

Summary: $ criminal justice system cost savings of $15,977. Criminal justice system costs 59% less during program participation compared with costs for nondrug court participants. Projected 150% return on investment after 5 years; projected 300% return on investment after 10 years.

In conclusion, should Slammer readers wish to review either volume of the American University report, the following link will take them to the PDF versions:

LINK to Multinational Report (Click here)

Authorship of this effort is attributed to the Justice Programs Office, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C., by Caroline S. Cooper, Research Professor and Director of the Justice Programs Office, and graduate research assistants Brent Franklin and Tiffany Mease.

This publication was drafted by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Secretariat for Multidimensional Security of the Organization of American States (OAS); the Justice Programs Office, School of Public Affairs, American University; the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP), Universiteit Gent; the Ministerio Público of Chile (General Prosecutor’s Office); and the International Association of Drug Treatment Courts (IADTC). It was developed in the framework of the EU-LAC Drug Treatment City Partnerships, an initiative coordinated by CICAD/SMS/OAS and funded by the European Commission. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the position of the EU or the OAS.

Establishing Drug Treatment Courts: Strategies, Experiences
and Preliminary Outcomes
ISBN 978-0-8270-5448-6

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  • EnuJu said:

    Traditional criminal jutscie case processing is based on the concepts of incapacitation and deterrence with little focus on rehabilitation. With over two decades of punitive ‘get tough’ legislation and ballot measures (such as mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing laws, and three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws), rehabilitation is not a priority in our nation’s correctional system. The Oregon Department of Corrections estimates that close to 75% of the 14,000+ inmates have an alcohol/drug problem and nearly 60% of the inmates are substance dependent. However, there are only approximately 274 residential treatment beds for men and only 54 residential treatment beds for women inside four of the fourteen state prisons. Drug courts serve as an alternative to incarceration and allow an offender to bypass prison time if he/she successfully completes the program. The main focus of drug courts is treatment and rehabilitation, unlike prisons, jails, and probation. Clients are not stigmatized with a prison stay or a label of being a convict. Clients are not unwillingly removed from society, are able to maintain some freedom while still being held responsible for their criminal behavior, and are treated with respect from individuals who sincerely want to help. Drug courts focus on changing the underlying problems that cause criminal behavior instead of solely punishing an individual.


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