A systematic review of drug court effects on recidivism

Abstract

Drug courts have been proposed as a solution to the increasing numbers of drug involved offenders entering our criminal justice system, and they have become widespread since their introduction in 1989. Evaluations of these programs have led to mixed results. Using meta-analytic methods, we systematically reviewed the extant evidence on the effectiveness of drug courts in reducing future criminal offending. Fifty studies representing 55 evaluations were identified, including both experimental and quasi-experimental comparison group designs. The overall findings tentatively suggest that drug offenders participating in a drug court are less likely to reoffend than similar offenders sentenced to traditional correctional options. The equivocation of this conclusion stems from the generally weak methodological nature of the research in this area, although higher quality studies also observed positive results. Furthermore, the evidence tentatively suggests that drug courts using a single model (pre- or post-plea) may be more effective than those not employing these methods. These courts have a clear incentive for completion of the drug court program.

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Correspondence to David B. Wilson.

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This work was supported in part by the Jerry Lee Foundation. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for many helpful comments that improved this manuscript. Any errors, of course, remain our own.

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Wilson, D.B., Mitchell, O. & MacKenzie, D.L. A systematic review of drug court effects on recidivism. J Exp Criminol 2, 459–487 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-006-9019-4

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Key words

  • drug courts
  • meta-analysis
  • recidivism