Looking Inside the "Black Box" of Drug Court Treatment Services Using Direct Observations

Jeffrey A. Bouffard, North Dakota State University
Faye S. Taxman, University of Maryland at College Park

Recently, evaluations of drug court programs have begun to provide evidence of their effectiveness in reducing criminal behavior and drug abuse. In light of these findings, several authors have called for a more thorough examination of the therapeutic services offered within these courts in order to determine their mechanisms of effect. Unfortunately, the existing attempts at this examination of the "black box" of drug court treatment services have employed evaluation methods that fail to directly observe the services being offered in this context. The current study examines the implementation of substance abuse treatment within the drug court context, using a combination of traditional evaluation techniques (e.g., staff surveys, interviews with program administrators), as well as the use of a structured, direct observation tool, designed to quantify the type and amounts of various treatment topics and activities offered in a sample of four, diversely-organized adult drug courts. Results are presented in terms of the ability of these courts to offer services that are consistent with what is known about effective treatment of drug-involved offenders. Suggestions for the improvement of these courts' substance abuse treatment services are also discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006