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Adult Drug Courts: Evidence Indicates Recidivism Reductions and Mixed Results for Other Outcomes

GAO-05-219 Published: Feb 28, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2005.
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Drug court programs, which were established in the late 1980s as a local response to increasing numbers of drug-related cases and expanding jail and prison populations, have become popular nationwide in the criminal justice system. These programs are designed to reduce defendants' repeated crime (that is, recidivism), and substance abuse behavior by engaging them in a judicially monitored substance abuse treatment. However, determining whether drug court programs are effective at reducing recidivism and substance use has been challenging because of a large amount of weak empirical evidence. he 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act requires that GAO assess drug court program effectiveness. To meet this mandate, GAO conducted a systematic review of drug court program research, from which it selected 27 evaluations of 39 adult drug court programs that met its criteria for, among other things, methodological soundness. This report describes the results of that review of published evaluations of adult drug court programs, particularly relating to (1) recidivism outcomes, (2) substance use relapse, (3) program completion, and (4) the costs and benefits of drug court programs. DOJ reviewed a draft of this report and had no comments. Office of National Drug Control Policy reviewed a draft of this report and generally agreed with the findings.

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Courts (law)Crime preventionCrimesCriminalsDefendantsSubstance abuseSubstance abuse treatmentDrugsEvaluation methodsLocally administered programsPerformance measuresProgram evaluationRecidivismSubstance abuseDrug courts