Drug Courts:

Overview of Growth, Characteristics, and Results

GGD-97-106: Published: Jul 31, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative mandate, GAO reviewed the effectiveness and impact of federal grants for drug court programs that include court-supervised drug treatment, focusing on: (1) the universe of and funding for drug courts; (2) the approaches, characteristics, and completion and retention rates of existing programs; (3) the extent to which program and participant data are maintained and used to manage and evaluate drug court programs; and (4) the results of GAO's review and synthesis of existing published and unpublished evaluations or assessments of drug court programs regarding the impact of such programs.

GAO noted that: (1) there has been a substantial increase in the number of drug court programs started in the United States and the availability of federal funding to support such programs; (2) between 1989 and 1994, 42 drug court programs were started; (3) since 1994, the total number of operating drug court programs had grown to 161 as of March 31, 1997; (4) the number of drug court programs in various developmental stages as of the same date indicates that the number of operating programs will likely continue to grow; (5) over $125 million has been made available for the planning, implementation, enhancement, or evaluation studies of drug court programs from a variety of funding sources since 1989; (6) federal funding, which has increased substantially since 1993, has provided over $80 million of the total; (7) over 95 percent of the federal funding has been provided through federal grants administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); (8) state and local governments, private donations, and fees collected from program participants have provided about $45 million; (9) some programs reported that they deferred prosecuting offenders who entered the program, some allowed offenders to enter the program after their case had been adjudicated, and others allowed offenders to enter their program on a trial basis after entering a plea; (10) with the exception of follow-up data on program participants after leaving the program, most drug court programs surveyed by GAO reported that they maintained various types of data on program participants as suggested by DOJ in its guidance to jurisdictions applying for federal grants under: (a) Title V of the Violent Crime Act; (b) the HHS Center For Substance Abuse and Treatment in its drug court treatment guidelines; and (c) the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Standards Committee, which develops standards and provides guidance to drug court programs, in its drug court program guide; (11) GAO, for several reasons, could not draw any firm conclusions on the overall impact of drug court programs or on certain specific issues raised by Congress about the programs or their participants; (12) DOJ, in conjunction with various stakeholders in the drug court community, has initiated an impact evaluation, to be completed in 1999, of four of the oldest drug court programs; and (13) this evaluation is designed to address some of the factors associated with existing studies that prevented GAO from reaching firm conclusions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CSAT's discretionary grant program currently supports drug courts through the juvenile/Criminal Justice Treatment Networks. CSAT began funding of these networks in fiscal year (FY) 1996, and anticipates continuing support through FY2000. The grants support linkages with a network of treatment and social services providers, and linkages with other justice agencies, such as pretrial services, jails, and probation. Each project is undergoing process and impact evaluation. The evaluation includes collection of follow-up data on criminal recidivism and drug use.

    Recommendation: To help ensure more effective management and evaluation of drug court programs, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require drug court programs funded by discretionary grants administered by DOJ and HHS to collect and maintain follow-up data on program participants' criminal recidivism and, to the extent feasible, follow-up data on drug use relapse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOJ's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) requires Violent Crime Act drug court implementation and enhancement grant recipients to semiannually complete OJP's Drug Court Grantee Data Collection Survey, including recommended follow-up data. OJP has also developed a data system to collect and analyze the data. In addition, through focus groups and other information sharing means, OJP has taken steps to help and encourage drug court practitioners to build the capacity to efficiently and effectively collect follow-up data.

    Recommendation: To help ensure more effective management and evaluation of drug court programs, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require drug court programs funded by discretionary grants administered by DOJ and HHS to collect and maintain follow-up data on program participants' criminal recidivism and, to the extent feasible, follow-up data on drug use relapse.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS previously reported that it had obtained clearance from OMB to include voluntary performance measures in the annual Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant application. These measures were to include the percent of change in arrests and in drug use before and after treatment. HHS included language in its fiscal year 2002 SAPT Block Grant application package to encourage grantees to collect and/or report post-program data. To the extent states voluntarily report these measures, HHS should be better able to provide additional data on recidivism and post-treatment drug use for their block grant funded programs.

    Recommendation: To help ensure more effective management and evaluation of drug court programs, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require drug court programs funded by formula or block grants administered by DOJ and HHS, to the extent permitted by law, to collect and maintain follow-up data on program participants' criminal recidivism and, to the extent feasible, follow-up data on drug use relapse. Where no statutory authority exists to impose such requirements, DOJ and HHS should include in their respective grant guidelines language to suggest that drug court programs funded by these sources similarly collect and maintain such data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO's 1997 report, the State Justice Institute (SJI) has not specifically funded any impact evaluations of drug court programs. SJI has no immediate plans to fund drug court impact evaluations, but noted that if future SJI funding or support is provided for such evaluations, that it would work with the grantee to ensure that post-program data are included within the scope.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that conclusions about the impact of drug court programs on participants' criminal recidivism and/or drug use relapse can be drawn, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Executive Director of the State Justice Institute should require that the scope of the future impact evaluations of drug court programs funded by their respective agencies include an assessment of program participants' postprogram criminal recidivism and drug use relapse and, whenever feasible, compare drug court participants with similar nonparticipants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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