Researchers at the Urban Institute, the Center for Court Innovation, and RTI International have recently completed perhaps the most ambitious study of drug courts to date in the USA. Funded by the National Institute of Justice, the five-year multi-site study compared participants in 23 drug courts in seven states to similar defendants who went through conventional case processing. The results offer vivid evidence that drug courts are effective at reducing both substance abuse and crime.

Among other findings, the study documented that drug court participants were one-third less likely to report using drugs 18 months after their enrollment in the program. And they were responsible for less than half as many criminal acts as the comparison group after 18 months. Largely because of these reductions in criminal behavior, drug courts ended up saving an estimated $5,680 per participant—cost savings that closely resemble those found in previous studies in California and Washington State.

In examining why drug courts have succeeded, the evaluation focused in particular on the role of the judge and the value of procedural fairness. The fact that drug court participants generally had more favorable perceptions of the judge than the comparison group was among the most important factors explaining why drug courts reduced drug use and crime.

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