Juvenile Drug Courts: Do They Work?

Jennifer Grimes, Arizona State University
Angela Harvey, Arizona State University

The use of Juvenile Drug Courts (JDCs) for the purpose of treating non-violent juvenile drug offenders committing a first offense has increased rapidly in recent years. In 1995 over 140 JDCs were in existence, and an additional 125 are currently being planned throughout the United States (Cooper, 2001). JDCs serve to provide drug-abusing juveniles with the treatments and services they would not receive in detention or on regular probation. To address juvenile drug use in Arizona's rural counties, in the summer of 2000 judges and probation officers began encouraging the adoption of juvenile drug courts into the state's rural areas.

Some research exists pertaining to adult and family drug courts, but very little concerning juveniles. The evaluations that have been conducted are not encouraging. One program in the Santa Clara County, California JDC in 1998 found that after a year and a half only 15% had graduated (n=9); 52% were still in the program (n=32); and 33% had dropped out (n=20). Those in the program had tested clean for 3.58 months (CCPA: April 8, 1998). Another program in Orange County, Florida had even less successful results: 10% were arrested while in the program and 56.7% were discharged as unsuccessful (Goldkamp and Weiland, 1993).

We are in the third year of an evaluation of Arizona JDCs for three rural counties: Cochise, Pinal, and Yavapai. Our paper elaborates on the problems currently facing these JDCs, and incorporates the responses received from juveniles and parents of juveniles involved in a JDC. Briefly, the major difficulties facing Arizona's rural JDCs include:

Getting the JDC organized and accepted by county and defense attorneys, and probation officers; Getting parents involved in the program; Lack of treatment programs and positive incentives for the juveniles; Lack of transportation for families that often have far to travel; and Possible net-widening.

One of the assumptions made by the Arizona Parents' Commission, who financially support the program, is that the main reason juveniles become drug offenders is poor family communications and lack of parental supervision. Through intensive interviewing with juveniles and their parents in three rural counties, we are seeking to determine whether or not the parent-child relationship has improved as a result of drug court interventions.

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Updated 05/20/2006