Drug Courts vs. Business-as-Usual: exploring the effectiveness of a new system

Ohio currently has a total of 124 drug courts. However, these courts are only in 42 out of the 88 counties in Ohio. They range from Adult, Juvenile, Family, and Veterans Treatment. The purpose of drug courts are to guide offenders into treatment instead of prison, with the goal of reducing drug dependency and chances of reoffending; as well as to improve the quality of life for the offender and their families.

Based on extensive studies done by the University of Cincinnati, it was found that all of the drug courts that were studied are lowering recidivism rates, and that drug court participation is a significant factor in producing these lower rates.
1) Common Pleas: Probability of rearrest was lowered by 19%
2) Municipal: Probability of rearrest was lowered by 9%
3) Juvenile: Probability of rearrest was lowered by 16%.

But can counties and taxpayers afford to put someone through this process?

Simple answer, yes.

This is because the largest investment in the non–drug court process is due to time in jail. Which turns out to be not only an expensive option, but also an ineffective one. Furthermore, although the business-as-usual process is generally thought of as one that does not involve treatment, this isn’t always true. In fact, for a lot of offenders, treatment is actually a condition of their probation. After the cost due to jail time, the next largest investment in the non–drug court process is treatment. So, either way, we end up paying for their treatment.

A study done by NPC Research outlined and calculated all of the cost for both options.

Cost per participant for the drug court process minus non–drug court processing:
$5,927.80 – $7,369.32 = –$1,441.52
Cost per year based on 300 drug court participants each year:
–$1,441.52 × 300 = –$432,456.00

As these numbers show, the cost for processing an offender through drug court (including those who terminate) is actually less than the cost of the business as usual method.

So, what’s the best way to do this?

According to a study published in the Ohio Northern University Law Review, there are three very important things to do and know to actually reduce recidivism.
1. Target offenders with the higher probability of failure.
2. Provide the most intensive services and treatment to higher risk offenders. This is because higher risk offenders tend to require a significantly higher dosage of treatment to achieve significant reductions in recidivism. However, if treatment goes on too long we see these results diminish.
3. Providing intensive treatment and interventions to low risk offenders can actually increase recidivism rates (theories to explain this last one – lower risk offenders can learn antisocial behavior from high risk offenders; requiring lower risk offenders to participate in intensive or multiple programs can disrupt their prosocial networks and actually give them some new risk factors; increased reporting and surveillance can lead to more technical violations).

Overall, to be effective at reducing recidivism, drug courts should be designed to appropriately identify and address the needs of higher risk offenders; the length of the program, the amount of treatment received, and an aftercare component are important considerations; and family involvement should be encouraged.

Our topic next week will focus on exploring different medically assisted forms of treatment: what’s healthy, effective, and affordable. To follow our new research and research of our local media partners, sign up for our weekly news roundup.

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