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More research has been published on the effects of adult drug courts
than virtually all other criminal justice programs combined. By 2006,
the scientific community had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt from
advanced statistical procedures called meta-analyses that drug courts
reduce criminal recidivism, typically measured by fewer re-arrests for
new offenses and technical violations. The Table below summarizes the
results of five independent meta-analyses all reporting superior effects
for drug courts over randomized or matched comparison samples of drug
offenders who were on probation or undergoing traditional criminal case
processing. In each analysis, the results revealed that drug courts
significantly reduced crime rates by an average of approximately 8 to 26
percent, with the “average of the averages” reflecting approximately a
10 to 15 percent reduction in recidivism.

Because these figures reflect averages, they mask substantial
variability in the performance of individual drug courts. Approximately
three quarters of the drug courts (78%) were found to have significantly
reduced crime (Shaffer, 2006), with the best drug courts reducing crime
by as much as 35 to 40 percent (Lowenkamp et al., 2005; Shaffer, 2006).
In well-controlled experimental studies, the reductions in recidivism
were shown to last at least three years post-entry (Gottfredson et al.,
2005, 2006; Turner et al., 1999), and in one study the effects lasted an
astounding 14 years (Finigan et al., 2007).

In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO, 2005)
similarly concluded that drug courts reduce crime; however, relatively
little information was available at that time about their effects on
other important outcomes, such as substance abuse, employment, family
functioning and mental health. In response to the GAO report, the
National Institute of Justice sponsored a national study of adult drug
courts, entitled the Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (or
MADCE). The MADCE compared outcomes for participants in 23 adult drug
courts located in seven geographic clusters around the country (n =
1,156) to those of a matched comparison sample of drug offenders drawn
from six non-drug court sites in four geographic clusters (n = 625). The
participants in both groups were interviewed at entry and at 6 and
18-month follow-ups, and provided oral fluid specimens at the 18-month
follow-up. Their official criminal records are also being examined for
up to 24 months.

The 6 and 18-month findings were presented at the 2009 Annual
Conference of the American Society of Criminology (Rempel & Green,
2009; Rossman et al., 2009). In addition to significantly less
involvement in criminal activity, the drug court participants also
reported significantly less use of illegal drugs and heavy use of
alcohol . These self-report findings were confirmed by saliva drug
tests, which revealed significantly fewer positive results for the drug
court participants at the 18-month assessment (29% vs. 46%, p < .01).
The drug court participants also reported significantly better
improvements in their family relationships, and non-significant trends
favoring higher employment rates and higher annual incomes. These
findings confirm that drug courts elicit substantial improvements in
other outcomes apart from criminal recidivism.

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