Adult Drug Courts Studies Show Courts Reduce Recidivism, but DOJ Could Enhance Future Performance Measure Revision Efforts

Scales of JusticeThe National Association of Drug Court Professionals announced that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its fourth report on Drug Courts in December, concluding that Drug Courts reduce recidivism and save money. The report validated existing Drug Court research by examining over 30 scientifically rigorous studies involving more than 50 Drug Courts throughout the country. The GAO was established to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government. The scope of this report was mandated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Of the 32 Drug Court programs reviewed, 31 showed reductions in recidivism. Of those that performed statistical comparisons, the large majority (72%) reported statistically significant reductions in crime for the Drug Court participants. In the GAO analysis, Drug Court participants were found to have up to a 26 percent lower rate of recidivism than comparison groups. Re-arrest rates for Drug Court graduates were found to be up to 58 percent below comparison groups.

The GAO reviewed 11 cost-benefit studies published between 2004 through 2011. These studies provided information to determine net-benefit, defined as the monetary benefit of reduced recidivism accrued to society from the Drug Court program through reduced future victimization and justice system expenditures, less the net costs of the Drug Court program. Drug Courts were found to have a cost-benefit as high as $47,852 per participant.

The GAO included in its review the National Institute of Justice’s Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE), which it called “the most comprehensive study on Drug Courts to date.” This five-year study published in July also confirmed that Drug Courts significantly reduce recidivism and drug use. Additional benefits were found to include increases in employment, education, family functioning and financial stability. The MADCE cost-benefit analysis determined benefits of $6,208 to society per participant. The GAO concluded, “This is the broadest and most ambitious study of Drug Courts to date; it is well done analytically, and the results, as they relate to the impact of Drug Courts, are transparent and well described.”

The press release can be accessed at:

The GAO Report can be accessed at:

Source: The National Association of Drug Court Professionals – December 19, 2011