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Evaluation of drug courts’ effectiveness on the rate of recidivism

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Evaluation of drug courts’ effectiveness on the rate of recidivism


In the U.S correctional system, there is an overburden of individuals suffering from controlled substance misuse. Such illnesses usually exact a heavy burden on the well-being of the individual as well as public health. Policymakers have therefore been concerned to reduce the negative impacts of such substances. This led to the introduction of drug courts to decongest correctional centers and rehabilitating some of the affected criminals.


According to the reports and data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing over the years. As of 2017, 11.2% of the American population indulges in the usage of illicit drugs. These are persons aged 12 years and over (SAMHSA, 2017). On the other hand, 2.2% of the population aged 12 years and overindulge in non-medical usage of psychotherapeutic drugs. With these rising numbers, there continues to be a rising “treatment gap” in this country. To intervene in the usage of illicit drugs and crime, adult drug courts were introduced in the United States. These courts were introduced in 1994, and since their inception, this movement has grown from 12 original courts to over 1200 drug courts in operation throughout the country (Glascow, 2012). The Adult Drug Courts provide an alternative program for convicted defendants who possess various drug abuse issues. They were put into place to help in the rehabilitation program to the criminals who possess drug abuse disorders, rather than incarcerating them. These courts offer them the opportunity to receive help, lead a sober life, and come out of them rehabilitated to start afresh and successful life. A criminal with drug disorders is expected to spend three months in inpatient drug rehabilitation, another three months in a halfway house, and then six months in a three-quarter way house before graduating from the program (Lindquist, 2011). In the United States, the recidivism rate of an offender incarcerated and does not undergo the drug court stands between 50% – 70%.

This research proposal aims to determine the rate of recidivism within the population of criminals who participated in the drug court program. The data obtained will then be compared to that of individual that did not participate in the program and were incarcerated without being offered proper rehabilitation program to determine which group commits more crime after being released from prison.

Literature Review

The United States Government office of Accountability published a report in February 2005, which outlined the success of drug court programs. This was done as per the requirement of The Department of Justice Appropriation Authorization Act, which outlines that GAO should assess the drug court programs’ effectiveness. To attain this mandate, GAO used a systematic review of the drug court program research – in this review program, they evaluated  27 out of 39 drug courts that met their criteria (GAO, 2005). This evaluation was done to merit whether it is worth it for the government to continue funding such programs. It would not be economical for the government to allocate its resources to unsuccessful programs. In their report, GAO published information related to recidivism outcomes, completion of programs, costs, and benefits of the drug court programs and substance use relapse among the convicted. This report indicated that most of the adult drug courts which GAO assessed led o the reduction of recidivism for the period they were in operation. This report indicated that once a person undergoes the drug court program and rehabilitation, they are more likely not to commit another crime. Once they complete their rehabilitation program, abiding by the law becomes a new normal to them, and it becomes rare to be rearrested for repeated crimes. According to the GAO reports, the data presented showed that out of the 27 evaluated programs, 23 showed a lower percentage of those who participated in the programs to be rearrested and reconvicted. The report also indicated that those who participated in the drug court programs had fewer recidivism events than the group that did not. However, the recidivism rates also depended on the type of felony committed by the offender. Therefore, from the GAO report, it is evident that the drug courts programs are effective in reducing recidivism among criminals. They also lead to financial cost savings for the criminal justice system since reducing recidivism rates reduces the instances of arrest and being arraigned in courts.

Marlowe conducted a similar study to that of GAO, and his conclusions were that drug courts reduce crime (Marlowe, 2010). In response to GAO’s research, the National Institute of Justice sponsored a national study of the adult drug courts, which was entitled Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (Marlowe, 2010). In this study, follow-ups were made on additional 23 drug courts distributed among the regions in the country; data were obtained and compared to a sample of drug offenders who were incarcerated in non-drug courts within different parts of the country (Marlowe, 2010). Apart from less involvement in criminal activities, the criminals who participated in drug court programs were also reported to be less involved in illicit drug use and heavy alcohol consumption. The tests conducted revealed that fewer drug court participants tested positive for drug usage and were not involved in criminal activities. The drug court participants had a crime and drug use rate of 29% compared to 46% for those who did not participate in drug courts. The study also reported that the drug court participants recorded a better improvement in their family relationships and had reformed characters, attracting casual employment opportunities, thus earning higher annual income (Marlowe, 2010). The findings from this study confirm that drug court programs do reduce criminal recidivism and make substantial improvements in their lives and other positive outcomes.

Another research study conducted by Carey, Cox, and Finigan also indicated results of reduced recidivism for those who participated in drug court entry as opposed to the eligible offenders who did not participate in the drug court program. The study also involved drug court judges who worked together with the participants ensured they got the best outcomes (Carey, Cox & Finigan, 2007). The study compared the drug court system with the traditional criminal justice system cost analysis. The cost analysis from this study was also conducted to assess the taxpayers’ money’s overall investment in these courts and analyze their benefits. This study covered a period from 1991 to 2001. All the drug court’s eligible participants were identified and tacked through administrative data systems to record their progress. Data from each offender’s outcomes were put together, and an emphasis was put on the criminal recidivism. The researchers also allowed for 5 years of follow up on all the cohorts to trace their traits after completing the drug court programs. Data on costs were also gathered, and the research illustrated some of the investment cost, outcome costs, and the total cost per participant (Carey, Cox & Finigan, 2007).

In conclusion, several researchers have attempted to conduct studies on the effects of drug courts on criminal recidivism. In most studies, the outcome has always been positive. This has signified that the drug courts have a positive impact on the reduction of recidivism. Therefore, with such instances, it lies upon the federal government to promote these courts to increase their impacts in society. However, these studies have not identified some strategies which may be u to increase the effectiveness of these drug courts. It is evident that society needs these courts to help in the rehabilitation process and the reduction of crime rates instead of having people with drug disorders incarcerated and sent to prison. This study will aim at fulfilling this gap by going ahead and identifying some of the best strategies which can be used to increase the court’s efficiency.

Research Methodology

The main aim of conducting this research is to determine the rate of recidivism among the population who participated in the drug court program. This study will employ thorough research on the issue of concern and attempt to discern the problem and provide the necessary solution. The study also sought to determine some of the strategies that can be put into place to increase the drug courts’ efficiency and programs. According to the survey done by National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2018, nearly 1 in every 5 people aged 12 years or older indulged in illicit drugs in the past year (NSDH, 2018). This was approximately 19.4 percent, which indicated a higher percentage compared to that in 2015 and 2016. Among these illicit substances, alcohol is mostly abused, followed by marijuana. In most instances, most illicit drug users are associated with criminal activities and are often in unending wrangles with the law-enforcing officers. Incarcerating such law offenders and letting them serve their terms in jails does not help. After coming out of jail, these people tend to go back to crime. The information provided by this research will be key in determining some of the factors which can be put into place to ensure a total reduction in the rate of recidivism among such law offenders. The research will also provide further suggestions on the improvement of these programs.

Research questions

In order to carry out the research accurately, this study was guided by two main research questions, which will be discussed with the respondents. These questions will guide the researcher during data collection and help the researcher remain relevant to the topic of concern. The guiding study questions include:

  • What is the rate of recidivism for adults charged with possession, sale, or use of illicit substances and successfully complete the drug court program compared to adults convicted of the same but are, however, incarcerated and served a jail term?
  • How does the quality of life for those convicted of charges associated with illicit substances, who successfully completed their drug court program compared to those who were convicted of the same but served a period of incarceration?
  • To what extent has the drug courts been effective in reforming the lives of those who successfully complete the program?

Research Design

This research is an evaluation of the outcome on the effect of drug courts programs on the rates of recidivism, which will be obtained amongst the offenders convicted with legal charges and are also indulging in the use of illicit substances in the state of Florida. This study also targets to evaluate the basic quality of life of the convicts who have successfully undergone the drug court program and have been discharged. This will also be compared to the evaluation done on those convicted of charges relating to drug use and were instead sentenced to a complete incarceration period.

This study will employ the use of both primary and secondary data to provide a comprehensive comparison of the effects of drug courts on the rates of criminal recidivism. This research will employ the use of a selective collection of data to come to the conclusion that drug courts contribute to the reduction of the rate of recidivism. Secondary data that may be used include; criminal data records and history of Florida, a list of drug courts graduates, and parolees convicted of substance misuse.


For this research, the population involved includes all the convicted offenders. They are also associated with using the controlled substance and are either serving jail terms or are rehabilitated in the drug courts. This population variety will enable the researcher to retrieve sufficient information towards fulfilling the requirements of the research. The population consists of people within the state of Florida who have a history of substance use.


The sample that will be involved in this study will be made of 200 legal defendants convicted of charges relating to the possession, sale, and/or the use of controlled substances who qualified to undergo the drug court program. On the other hand, the sample will also consist of 200 legal defenders convicted of charges relating to the possession, sale and/or use of controlled substance but did not qualify for the drug court program but instead served a period of incarceration. The researcher identified the respondents from the criminal record files present in the drug courts as well as those in judicial courts.  The researcher will then provide each respondent with printed questionnaires to obtain data from them. This data will be secure as the researcher will ensure that non-disclosure forms are signed, and the purpose of the study is clearly communicated to the respondents.

Data Collection

In the first set of data collection, the researcher will collect data from total arrest and/or criminal activities among the drug court graduates for 3 years before admission and two years after graduation from the drug courts. These data will be outsourced from the criminal justice system databases. The second set of data collection will be done on the total arrests and/or criminal activity occurrences among those who were previously incarcerated for 3 years before incarceration and 2 years after completing their jail terms. These data will be obtained from the criminal records in the criminal justice system database. These resources are available for review by the public at no extra cost and can be availed at request. Questionnaires will also be created by the researcher under the coordination of local drug programs and local prisons. The researcher needs to ensure that the questions issued in the questionnaires are pertinent and beneficial to the research. They will then be issued to each of the participants, and later collected for review.

Data Collection Instruments

For primary data collection, questionnaires will be issued. The questionnaires will contain questions about the individual’s current life situation. The researcher will issue the questionnaires to the participants on the day they are admitted into the drug courts and the day after which they graduate from the program. Additionally, the questionnaires will be issued to the previously incarcerated individuals their first sentence day and at the end of their term period. Some of the details which will be enquired in the questionnaires include; employment status, age, level of education, social life status, supportive relationships, and rate of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the incarceration or drug court program, etc. To ensure confidentiality, the questionnaires will not require any potentially identifying information and will be filed anonymously. The respondents will also sign consent forms for the protection of their privacy and ensure that the purpose of the study is clearly outlined and that their responses are only to be used for the study’s purpose.

Data Analysis

From the record collected, the data of each participant will be analyzed. First, the individuals’ records would be analyzed to ensure that they qualified for the drug court program. These records will also be analyzed to ensure that the total numbers of arrests are accounted for as well as the participants’ activities for the stipulated period of time. By analyzing these data, the researcher can achieve the purpose of the research by identifying the specific population susceptible to higher recidivism rates. For instance, if the researcher comes to the conclusion that one particular group of participants is more vulnerable than the other, then a proper program to help them cope with the situation can be suggested. Through this data analysis, the researcher can also come up with different techniques to improve the situation or effectiveness of the drug courts towards reducing recidivism. Nonetheless, the results from the analysis can be helpful in coming up with different rehabilitative programs that are resource-friendly and put funds allocated for such services into proper use. This will also benefit many people directly or indirectly.

However, there may be a few limitations to this study. First and foremost, some participants might successfully enter the drug courts but fail to graduate successfully. This will bring an imbalance when it comes to the comparison of pre-admission and post-discharge data, thus misleading the outcomes. Another limitation of the study would be unresponsiveness. Some participants may be afraid to give out their information with the fear that it might be used against them. Some might also provide misleading and dishonest answers, thus causing misinterpretation and biasness when it comes to drawing conclusions. Finally, conducting the research is also time-consuming. For one to obtain accurate data, he or she has to tack the respondents for a long period of time to determine whether they commit another crime. This is time-consuming for research; on the other hand, only major crimes are usually recorded, meaning that the researcher might miss some criminal activities that significantly affect recidivism rates.


From the above research, it is possible to evaluate drug courts’ effectiveness on the rate of recidivism. In most instances, it is true to say that those who are convicted of legal charges and are associated with controlled substances usually have a lower rate of recidivism if they undergo through the drug court program. However, those participants with the same drug issues who are incarcerated usually find it difficult to change. Other researchers, therefore, need to be conducted to improve the already existing notion on drug courts and present further diverse strategies to improve their effectiveness.


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