Drug Courts:

Better DOJ Data Collection and Evaluation Efforts Needed to Measure Impact of Drug Court Programs

GAO-02-434: Published: Apr 18, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 2002.

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In exchange for the possibility of dismissed charges or reduced sentences, defendants with substance abuse problems agree to be assigned to drug court programs. In drug courts, judges generally preside over the proceedings; monitor the progress of defendants; and prescribe sanctions and rewards in collaboration with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and treatment providers. Most decisions about drug court operations are left to local jurisdictions. Although programs funded by the Drug Court Program Office (DCPO) must collect and provide performance measurement and outcome data, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not effectively managed this effort because of (1) its inability to readily identify the universe of DCPO-funded drug court programs, including those subject to DCPO's data collection reporting requirements; (2) its inability to accurately determine the number of drug court programs responding to DCPO's semiannual data collection survey; (3) inefficiencies in the administration of DCPO's semiannual data collection effort; (4) the elimination of post-program impact questions from the data collection survey effort; and (5) the lack of use of the Drug Court Clearinghouse. Various administrative and research factors have also hampered DOJ's ability to complete the two-phase National Institute of Justice-sponsored national impact evaluation study. As a result, DOJ continues to lack vital information needed to determine the overall impact of federally funded programs and to assess whether drug court programs use federal funds effectively.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, in 2002 DOJ suspended its efforts to collect primary data from drug court programs allowing the OMB clearance for its drug court grantee data collection survey form to expire. DOJ also discontinued funding the effort on the part of American University's Drug Court Clearinghouse to collect recidivism and relapse data through an annual survey of all drug court programs. Thus, it did not collect any primary data from drug court program grantees in 2002 and 2003. DOJ since that time, entered into a partnership with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support an annual survey of all drug courts and not just those funded by DOJ. This collaborative effort has resulted in two publications (2004 & 2005) that provided summary information from the analyses of data collected by NIDA from various drug court programs throughout the United States. Unfortunately, the data analyses presented did not focus on DOJ-funded drug court programs as we recommended, nor did the resulting publications include summary analyses of any data collected by NIDA on the outcome (i.e. relapse or recidivism) of DOJ-funded drug court program participants.

    Recommendation: To improve DOJ's collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should consolidate the multiple DOJ-funded drug court program-related data collection efforts to better ensure that the primary focus is on the collection and reporting of data on DCPO-funded drug court programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, in 2002 DOJ suspended its efforts to collect primary data from drug court programs allowing the OMB clearance for its drug court grantee data collection survey form to expire. DOJ also discontinued funding the effort on the part of American University's Drug Court Clearinghouse to collect recidivism and relapse data through an annual survey of all drug court programs. Thus, it did not collect any primary data from drug court program grantees in 2002 and 2003. Since that time, DOJ has entered into a partnership with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support an annual survey of drug courts. This collaborative effort resulted in two publications (2004 & 2005) that provided summary information from the analyses of data collected by NIDA from various drug court programs throughout the United States. Unfortunately, the data analyses presented did not focus on DOJ-funded drug court programs as we recommended, nor did the resulting publications include summary analyses of any data collected by NIDA on the outcome (i.e. relapse or recidivism) of DOJ-funded drug court program participants.

    Recommendation: To improve DOJ's collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should analyze performance and outcome data collected from grantees and report annually on the results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to a recommendation we made in 2002, DOJ's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which now manages DOJ's Discretionary Grants for Drug Court Programs, reinstated the collection of post-program data for drug court program participants. Specifically, in fiscal year 2004, BJA required recipients of its Drug Court Discretionary Grants to submit semi-annual progress reports that include performance measurement data concerning the progress of participants up to 1-year post graduation from a BJA funded drug court program. In the fiscal year 2005, drug court discretionary grantees were also instructed that, if feasible, they should include criminal behavior data from 1 to 2 years after a participant?s program completion. Additional post-program data collection requirements were also outlined for grantees completing outcome evaluations that included the collection of data on the percentage of drug court graduates rearrested, or who received a technical violation of probation, or were convicted 1 year after program completion (i.e., drug possessions, other nonviolent offenses, and violent offenses). Additionally, beginning with grants awarded in FY 2003, BJA program managers began conducting random "spot checks" of grantee data during site visits to check for compliance with data collection requirements. BJA's grants management system was also revised to enable BJA grant recipients to submit their semi-annual progress reports directly into the system and to allow BJA program managers to follow-up with grantees to ensure that data reported is timely and accurate.

    Recommendation: To improve DOJ's collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should reinstate the collection of post-program data in DCPO's data collection effort, selectively spot checking grantee responses to ensure accurate reporting.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOJ's Discretionary Grants for Drug Court Programs, which was managed by DOJ's Drug Court Program Office (DCPO), was reorganized under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) two months after the release our report. Additionally, in 2002 and prior to the reorganization, DCPO announced that it was suspending its efforts to collect primary data from drug court programs through an annual survey of all drug court programs and did not collect any primary data from drug court program grantees in 2002 and 2003. Under BJA, recipients of Drug Court Discretionary Grants, beginning in fiscal year 2004, were required to submit semi-annual progress reports that included performance measurement data concerning the progress of participants up to 1-year post graduation from a BJA funded drug court program. In the fiscal year 2005, drug court discretionary grantees were also instructed by BJA that, if feasible, they should include criminal behavior data from 1 to 2 years after a participant?s program completion. Additionally, beginning with grants awarded in FY 2003, BJA began requiring its program managers to conduct random "spot checks" of grantee data while conducting site visits to check for compliance with data collection requirements--this includes drug court program grant recipients. BJA's grants management system was also revised to enable BJA program managers to follow-up with grantees to ensure that data reported is timely and accurate. BJA officials noted that they have not taken any corrective action towards any drug court program grant recipients for failure to comply with reporting requirements, but noted that BJA's policy is for grant managers is to add a "withholding special condition" on any new grant award if the applicant is delinquent in submitting financial and/or progress reports for any active BJA grant.

    Recommendation: To improve DOJ's collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should take corrective action towards grantees who do not comply with DOJ's data collection reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOJ's Discretionary Grants for Drug Court Programs, which was managed by DOJ's Drug Court Program Office (DCPO), was reorganized under the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) two months after the release our report. Additionally, in 2002 and prior to the reorganization, DCPO announced that it was suspending its efforts to collect primary data from drug court programs through an annual survey of all drug court programs and did not collect any primary data from drug court program grantees in 2002 and 2003. Under BJA, recipients of Drug Court Discretionary Grants, beginning in fiscal year 2004, were required to submit semi-annual progress reports that included performance measurement data concerning the progress of participants up to 1-year post graduation from a BJA funded drug court program. In the fiscal year 2005, drug court discretionary grantees were also instructed by BJA that, if feasible, they should include criminal behavior data from 1 to 2 years after a participant?s program completion. Additionally, beginning with grants awarded in FY 2003, BJA began requiring its program managers to conduct random "spot checks" of grantee data while conducting site visits to check for compliance with data collection requirements--this includes drug court program grant recipients. BJA's grants management system was also revised to enable BJA program managers to follow-up with grantees to ensure that data reported is timely and accurate. Since the reorganization under BJA, DOJ has entered into a partnership with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support an annual survey of drug courts. This effort, however, focuses on the collection of data from all drug courts and not just those federally funded, and is managed primarily by NIDA. There is no specific effort currently underway to routinely notify and remind grantees after the awarding of their grant of their reporting requirements. BJA officials noted that they plan to address this issue in the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2007).

    Recommendation: To improve DOJ's collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should take steps to ensure and sustain an adequate grantee response rate to DCPO's data collection efforts by improving efforts to notify and remind grantees of their reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation that the Attorney General develop and implement a management information system that is able to track and readily identify the universe of drug court programs funded by the Drug Courts Program Office (DCPO), DOJ reported in July 2003, that a management information system for tracking program data for drug court programs was implemented and that all current information on its grantee's programmatic and financial reports has been entered. Also, in November 2002, as part of the reorganization at the Office of Justice Programs, the DCPO became a part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). BJA was developing a comprehensive grant management system to capture data elements on all BJA grant programs. In October 2003 DOJ provided documentation to show that a management information system was in place to enable DOJ to, among other things, track and readily identify the universe of drug court programs funded by grant type, amount awarded, status, year awarded, and jurisdiction. The system also enables DOJ to readily identify multiple grants awarded to jurisdictions.

    Recommendation: To improve the Department of Justice's (DOJ) collection of data on the performance and impact of federally funded drug court programs, the Attorney General should develop and implement a management information system that is able to track and readily identify the universe of drug court programs funded by the Drug Courts Program Office (DCPO).

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the recommendation in GAO's April 2002 report, DOJ's NIJ, in October 2002, issued a solicitation to fund a national drug court evaluation that was multi-site, longitudinal, and focused on the impact of DOJ's Drug Court Program Office (DCPO)-funded drug court programs. This solicitation called for the inclusion of comparison groups and the collection of post-program data, which were key methodology elements highlighted in GAO's 2002 and 1997 reports. The deadline for proposals for this solicitation was February 10, 2003. On July 24, 2003, the Urban Institute was awarded an initial grant (#2003DCBX1001) in the amount of $570,835 for its proposal to conduct the logitudinal multi-site impact evaluation. The Urban Institute proposal includes a plan to include multi-sites, DCPO-funded programs, comparison groups, and some post-program data.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that needed information on the impact of federally funded drug court programs is made available to Congress, the public, and other drug court stakeholders as early as possible, the Attorney General should take immediate steps to accelerate the funding and implementation of a methodologically sound national impact evaluation and to consider ways to reduce the time needed to provide information on the overall impact of federally funded drug court programs. Furthermore, steps should be taken to implement appropriate oversight of this evaluation effort to ensure that it is well designed and executed, and remains on schedule.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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