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In line with their positive effects on crime reduction, drug courts
have also proven highly cost-effective (Belenko et al., 2005). A recent
cost-related meta-analysis concluded that drug courts produce an average
of $2.21 in direct benefits to the criminal justice system for every
$1.00 invested — a 221% return on investment (Bhati et al., 2008). When
drug courts targeted their services to the more serious, higher-risk
offenders, the average return on investment was determined to be even
higher: $3.36 for every $1.00 invested.

These savings reflect measurable cost-offsets to the criminal justice
system stemming from reduced re-arrests, law enforcement contacts, court
hearings, and use of jail or prison beds. When more distal cost-offsets
were also taken into account, such as savings from reduced foster care
placements and healthcare service utilization, studies have reported
economic benefits ranging from approximately $2.00 to $27.00 for every
$1.00 invested (Carey et al., 2006; Loman, 2004; Finigan et al., 2007;
Barnoski & Aos, 2003). The result has been net economic benefits to
local communities ranging from approximately $3,000 to $13,000 per drug
court participant (e.g., Aos et al., 2006; Carey et al., 2006; Finigan
et al., 2007; Loman, 2004; Barnoski & Aos, 2003; Logan et al.,

Target Population

No program should be expected to work for all people. According to the criminological paradigm of the Risk Principle,
intensive programs such as drug courts are expected to have the
greatest effects for high-risk offenders who have more severe antisocial
backgrounds or poorer prognoses for success in standard treatments
(e.g., Andrews & Bonta, 2006; Taxman & Marlowe, 2006). Such
high-risk individuals ordinarily require a combined regimen of intensive
supervision, behavioral accountability, and evidence-based treatment
services, which drug courts are specifically structured to provide.

Consistent with the predictions of the Risk Principle, drug courts have
been shown to have the greatest effects for high-risk participants who
were relatively younger, had more prior felony convictions, were
diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, or had previously failed
in less intensive dispositions (Lowenkamp et al., 2005; Fielding et
al., 2002; Marlowe et al., 2006, 2007; Festinger et al., 2002). In one
meta-analysis, the effect size for drug court was determined to be twice
the magnitude for high-risk participants than for low-risk participants
(Lowenkamp et al., 2005). In a county-wide evaluation of drug courts in
Los Angeles, virtually all of the positive effects of the drug courts
were determined to have been attributable to the higher-risk
participants (Fielding et al., 2002).

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