Lessons Learned From the New York State Drug Court Evaluation

Michael Rempel, Center for Court Innovation
Dana Fox, Center for Court Innovation
Amanda Cissner, Center for Court Innovation

This paper synthesizes major findings and policy implications of a statewide evaluation of New York's adult drug courts. The evaluation analyzed court policies, participant characteristics, and performance measures at eleven sites and included impact evaluations of effects on case outcomes and recidivism at six sites. The drug courts showed substantial variation across nearly all policy-related and descriptive measures, including criminal jsutice eligibility; severeity of the underlying drug problem; other participant demogrtaphics; the organization of relationships with local treatment providers; and judicial sanctioning practices. Although it is often assumed that drug courts use a "graduated santions" model, where successive infractions incur increasingly severe sanctions, none of the courts analyzed strictly followed such an approach. Eight of the eleven courts retained more than 60% of participants after one year, exceeding what is believed to be the national average for drug courts. With respect to program effectiveness, four of the six courts invovled in impact evaluations were studied with a pre-post design, comparing drug court participants to matched samples of defendants arrested just before the drug court opened. Due to unique features in the early implementation of two programs, the final two could be studied with matched comparison groups arrested during a contemporaneous time period. All of the courts analyzed showed reductions in recidivism up to three years after the initial arrest and up to one year after program completion. However, effect sizes varied substantially. One program, Queens, nearly cut recidivism levels in half at the three-year post-arrest mark and by more than half at the one-year post-program mark. Other programs showed smaller effects, not consistently reaching significance on all measures. Additional findings will be discussed on which program factors and participant characteristics prediced a greater or lesser impact on recidivism.

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Updated 05/20/2006