The Success of Drug Courts-The Urban Institute-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/08/the-success-of-drug-courts-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s show is on drug courts and we have Urban Institute research addressing multiple outcomes from multiple places throughout the country, but it’s just not recidivism or return to crime, but it also measures drug use, socio-economics, status and outcomes, family functioning and mental health. It’s one of the most complete evaluations I’ve ever seen in terms of drug courts. Our guest today is Shelli B. Rossman, Senior Fellow, the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. www.urban.org. Shelli, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Shelli Rossman: Thank you Len.

Len Sipes: Shelli, before describing the research I want to state that it addresses 23 drug courts in 8 states. That’s a big evaluation.

Shelli Rossman: Yes, this is the largest drug court study every undertaken and it’s interesting because within those 23 drug courts, in very different demographic areas, we have both large and small courts represented. Rural, suburban and urban courts from major cities, and we selected them so that they represented different parts of the country, where different drug use patterns were represented.

Len Sipes: Now one of the things I did want to get straight from the very beginning is the fact that we’ve had lots of evaluations of drug courts, but this is sort of what we call a meta examination. This is something large, this is something comprehensive, because you know, and you’re talking about different drug courts. So this particular evaluation, I think, is almost the final word on drug courts, or the best assessment that we have in terms of drug courts considering its complexity and the fact that it’s from around the country?

Shelli Rossman: Well, it’s a very comprehensive study. It’s not truly a meta analysis, because it doesn’t do a secondary analysis of data collected by other organizations or researchers. This was really original research in which we selected 23 drug courts based upon a nationwide survey we had done earlier, so that we could find out what the patterns among different drug courts were, and make sure that they were in this study. And then we selected six comparison jurisdictions. So this impact evaluation looks at outcomes for individuals who participate in drug courts compared to similar substance abusers who are participating in whatever is business as usual within their local jurisdiction. So it’s not a comparison of drug court treatment to no treatment, it’s a comparison of drug court treatment to whatever is standard throughout the United States.

Len Sipes: Right, I mean it’s, its pretty close to being an apples and apples comparison.

Shelli Rossman: Yes, it is.

Len Sipes: The title, by the way, is the Multi Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation Executive Summary, again, by the Urban Institute, funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice, I take it?

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct, and it’s actually the Executive Summary has behind it four very detailed volumes that look at the results of our process, impact, and cost/benefit analysis and all of those are available both on the National Institute of Justice’s Drug Court website, and Urban Institutes website.

Len Sipes: And one of the things that I do want to say, as, as I mentioned before we hit the record button, the fact that, you know, the Urban Institute writes good reports.

Shelli Rossman: Thank you.

Len Sipes: There aren’t too many criminological organizations out there that know how to write and provide clear cut findings and clear cut policy implications for those of us on the practitioner side. So, I wanted to thank the Urban Institute for knowing what very few people seem to know in this country: how to write. I mean, the findings are clear and the findings are pretty interesting. So give me a description of the outcomes.

Shelli Rossman: Okay. Well, first of all I’d like to tell you a little bit about the scope of the study itself –

Len Sipes: Please.

Shelli Rossman: Beyond the jurisdictions. In terms of individual outcomes, we had a sample that was almost 1,800 persons strong.

Len Sipes: That’s a lot of people.

Shelli Rossman: It is, it’s large. It was 1,156 drug court participants and 625 substance abusers who were not offered drug courts, but would have been eligible –

Len Sipes: A large sample size.

Shelli Rossman: So they were a match sample. And the sources, we used several different sources of information to generate our findings. One was a series, three waves of very detailed, one and a half to two hour interviews at baseline, when people were either enrolled in drug court or the alternative comparison condition, and then at six months and 18 months later. At the 18 month administration, for those who were eligible and consented, we did a field test, an oral swap, to actually confirm independently whether or not individuals were using.

Len Sipes: Didn’t take their word for it, you proved it.

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Shelli Rossman: And then we also collected administrative, official Criminal Justice Records from the state systems of the eight states and from the FBI and CIC database.

Len Sipes: As to whether or not they’d been arrested?

Shelli Rossman: Correct, correct and their lifetime criminal history –

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So that we could compare over time. We also did a process evaluation that had us surveying the drug courts nationwide and using those, that information for the eight, for the specific 23 courts that participated, and we went and spoke with all the stakeholders, the drug court team, the judges. We also used a systematic rating protocol to observe each of the drug courts and to rate them and rank them on various characteristics of the court operations. So that’s the source of our information. What did we find?

Len Sipes: Yeah, what did you find? I mean everybody’s there going, okay, it’s Urban, it’s Department of Justice, we understand that you do good research, what did you find, Shelli?

Shelli Rossman: So the study, there are a number of drug court studies out there but most have focused on whether or not drug courts have an impact on reducing crime for their participants.

Len Sipes: Right, recidivism.

Shelli Rossman: And we certainly looked at that.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: But as you mentioned earlier, we were also interested in knowing, do they reduce drug use and do they contribute to other positive psycho-social changes?

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So in terms of drug use, we measured self reported, whether individuals reported the use of marijuana, alcohol, and heavy alcohol, which we defined as more than four drinks per day for women and more than five per day for men, whether they reported use of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and hallucinogens and then whether they misused, that is, illegally used prescription drugs, or illegally used methadone.

Len Sipes: All right, so you did the whole gambit, what did you find?

Shelli Rossman: Yes, we did. We found that at the 18 month follow up; looking at their use in the period from six months to 18 months, there was a statistically significant difference between the drug court participants and the comparison group on all drugs.

Len Sipes: All right, statistically significant means it wasn’t by chance, it was the result of the program?

Shelli Rossman: Correct. 56% of drug court participants reported using any of those substances within months six to 18, as compared to 76% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Okay, so that’s a 20% difference?

Shelli Rossman: Yes, it is, and that’s quite large.

Len Sipes: That’s a very large difference.

Shelli Rossman: Right, and when you, when you remove the two least harmful substances, that is, light alcohol use and marijuana, that difference still stands. 41% of drug court participants report use of the more serious drugs, as compared to 58% of the comparison group. Now –

Len Sipes: So a significant decrease in drug use?

Shelli Rossman: Very.

Len Sipes: And, and we know that drug use is heavily, heavily correlated with criminal activity.

Shelli Rossman: We do, and but we also measured crime independently. But I do want to point out something that’s very important about this. When I’m talking about measuring it through the 18 months, that captures a period of at least several months, post enrollment in the drug courts. So that means that these people have already finished their drug court participation by and large.

Len Sipes: And nobody was watching them.

Shelli Rossman: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And there were no consequences, there were no legal consequences for imbibing?

Shelli Rossman: Correct. Now most drug courts nationwide, and this holds true for most of the drug courts in our sample as well, offer the program for a one year period.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: But people typically have a number of relapses that extends their stay in drug court.

Len Sipes: And that’s, and that’s a natural part of the whole drug treatment process, something that most people don’t realize.

Shelli Rossman: It’s one of the reasons why the courts use graduated sanctions rather than simply failing people out at the first time that they do not remain sober.

Len Sipes: Right, right. It’s not unusual for a person who even if he or she is committed to drug treatment, committed to kicking drugs, to pull a variety of positives.

Shelli Rossman: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Shelli Rossman: And the practical ramification for operating a drug court is it means that a 12 month program typically takes people maybe around 15 months to complete. And so when we’re doing a measure at 18 months, for most of these people, they’ve been out of drug court for several months and they are still sustaining the gains.

Len Sipes: Before getting into the other variables, I do want to talk about criminal activity, because you know, there is one particular finding that I find astounding. Of those reporting criminal activity at the 18 month follow up, drug court participants reported about half as many criminal acts – 43, versus 88 on average in the prior year. Half as many criminal acts. Now I don’t know of many studies, I’m used to seeing 15%. I’m used to seeing good studies being, I mean, very successful studies being 20%. You’ve cut it by half.

Shelli Rossman: Well we cut it, well, that’s not percentage though, that’s the number of criminal acts they reported.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So there are, there’s a difference. There are two different kinds of measurements. So we measured whether or not they reported engaging in crime.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: And if we, if we used the same measure as we used, the same temporal measurement that we use for drug use, so at 18 months we looked at whether they self reported crime from months six to month 18, and there was a significant difference: 40% of the drug court group reported having engaged in crime as compared to 53% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Now that’s not based upon criminal record – that’s based upon surveys?

Shelli Rossman: Self reports.

Len Sipes: Self reports. But you know the interesting part is that there are increasing numbers of research reports based upon self report, and in a lot of cases, self report is not used. When self report is used, a lot of these programs show their full impact or their full potential to have an impact based upon self report. So sometimes I’m wondering why we’re not doing more self reporting and that’s one of the reasons I brought this up.

Shelli Rossman: We did both. And I want to make a couple points –

Len Sipes: Okay, go ahead.

Shelli Rossman: If you’ll let me?

Len Sipes: Oh, of course.

Shelli Rossman: So that, that looked at a one year period prior to the 18 month mark. We shaved that period and said, “Well, what about the last six months?” Because it might be that they were committing their crimes earlier in their program affiliation.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: And so if we look at only the last six months, 31% of the drug court group, as compared to 43% of the other substance abusing offenders engaged in any kind of crime.

Len Sipes: Okay, that’s 31 to what?

Shelli Rossman: 31 to 43%.

Len Sipes: And that’s based upon official records or interviews?

Shelli Rossman: That’s also self report.

Len Sipes: Self reports, okay.

Shelli Rossman: But, but when we look at the official records, we get similar findings.

Len Sipes: Right.

Shelli Rossman: So we find for instance, that the rearrests, based upon administrative records and that’s at 24 months, 52% of the drug court participants had a rearrest at any point during the 24 months, as compared to 62% of the comparison group.

Len Sipes: Yeah, a significant, a significant difference.

Shelli Rossman: Ten percentage points, right?

Len Sipes: Okay.

[Audio Ends]

Share

Speak Your Mind

*

%d bloggers like this: