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Program Profile: Oregon Drug Courts

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 10, 2011

Program Summary

These statewide drug court programs were designed to provide comprehensive management for drug offenders—through increased treatment, monitoring, and interactions with the court judge—to achieve reductions in reoffending and better drug treatment outcomes for substance users. This program is rated Promising. Individuals who participated in drug court programs had statistically significant reductions in recidivism rates and number of rearrests, compared with the control group.

Program Description

Program Goals/Program Theory
The Oregon Drug Courts offer an alternative to a traditional court by providing intensive and comprehensive management of drug offenders, through increased treatment, monitoring and interaction with the Drug Court Judge, to achieve reductions in reoffending and better drug treatment outcomes for substance users. Reduced recidivism and improved treatment outcomes also help to achieve significant reductions in future costs to the criminal justice system and the health care system while increasing public safety.

Drug courts differ from the traditional criminal justice process by including a strong treatment and supervisory component to the offender’s sanction. The objective is to treat the underlying substance abuse issues, which are related to continued criminal activity. By acting upon offenders’ addiction problems, the drug courts aim to prevent future offending and reduce recidivism.

Target Population/Eligibility
The target population of the Oregon Drug Courts is offenders who have substance use problems. Referrals to the drug court are made by defense attorneys, prosecutors, and probation officers. The exact eligibility criteria vary from county to county.

Participation in the drug courts is voluntary. In Douglas County, Ore., for example, the deputy District Attorney working with the drug court screens defendants upon arrest and identifies those who meet the program criteria, which vary by particular drug court. After the program is explained to them, defendants have 2 weeks to decide whether to accept or decline entry into the Drug Court program. Those who are eligible but decline are routed through the traditional criminal justice system.

Program Components
The program uses a nonconfrontational arrangement between defense attorneys and the prosecution to determine the best course of action for offenders while maintaining their right to due process. A treatment specialist assesses the participant to establish a treatment plan. To graduate from the program, the participant is expected to meet all the treatment objectives and undergo drug screening, including intensive abstinence monitoring for at least 6 months. The participant is also expected to attend a set number of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous (or AA/NA) meetings and have regular meetings with the drug court judge. While individual interventions are adapted to the offender after assessment by treatment professionals, the program requirements also vary by county, depending on how the program is implemented.

The program consists of at least 1 year of:
  • Intensive treatment and other services required for the participant to get and stay clean and sober
  • Participant accountability to the drug court judge for meeting obligations to the court, society, themselves, and their families
  • Regular and random testing for drug use
  • Frequent court appearances with the drug court judge to review progress
Participants receive rewards for doing well or sanctions for not meeting requirements. Again, these vary by drug court.

Key Personnel
The drug courts team varies, depending on how the program is implemented. Commonly, the key personnel consist of defense attorneys, prosecutors, drug court judges, treatment specialists, law enforcement officers, and case managers.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Recidivism (Percent Rearrested)
Carey and Waller (2011) found the recidivism rate within 3 years for the treatment group (who participated in one of the 20 drug court programs in Oregon) was 48 percent, compared with 60 percent for the comparison group, a statistically significant difference.

Number of Rearrests
The average number of rearrests for the comparison group was 2.02, compared with 1.14 for the treatment group, a statistically significant difference. Participation across the 20 drug court programs in Oregon led to an average 44-percent reduction in number of rearrests within 3 years.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Carey and Waller (2011) used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate Oregon’s 20 adult drug courts—in Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Crook, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Umatilla, Union, Wasco, Washington, and Yam–Hill counties—to investigate whether the adult drug courts were cost-beneficial and to identify best practices across Oregon’s Drug Court program. The overall sample comprised 13,035 participants, with an average of 244 participants per court program. Sixty-seven percent were male, 84 percent were white, 9 percent were Latino, and 5 percent were black. The majority (75 percent) reported their drug of choice as methamphetamine, followed by marijuana (54 percent), alcohol (39 percent), cocaine (12 percent), and heroin (6 percent).

The treatment group of 5,655 drug c­ourt participants comprised all the offenders entered into the programs between January 2000 and December 2006, with recidivism tracked through May 2010. The data was gathered from the drug court database of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. The comparison group of 7,380 offenders was chosen in two stages. All drug court–eligible offenders were identified for the same period as the treatment group. Those who had previously been entered into drug courts or who were legally barred from participating were excluded after being identified within the Oregon Judicial Information Network database. The treatment group was then matched to the potential comparison sample (on aggregate within county) according to demographics and criminal history (county of residence, drug court–eligible charge, age, gender, race/ethnicity, prior drug charges, prior property charges, and prior person/violence charges). The treatment group was routed through the Oregon Drug Courts program, while the comparison group remained within the traditional criminal justice system.

Recidivism was analyzed based on rearrest data. Univariate analyses of covariance were used to compare the means of rearrest, as well as the means for time spent on probation, on parole, in jail, and in prison for both treatment and comparison group 3 years after the entry into the program (and comparison group equivalent). The analysis controlled for both demographics and criminal history, with the adjusted means being used to calculate costs. Crosstabs and chi-square analysis was used to identify differences in rearrests between the treatment and comparison group.

The study also looked at 335 aspects of adult drug court program implementation, part of the 10 Key Components of Drug Courts (National Association of Drug Court Professionals 1997), which are the operational guidelines for drug court implementation. Data on these practices were obtained through Web-based surveys completed by the drug courts. The researchers performed quantitative analysis to identify and measure practices that were conducive to lower recidivism, higher graduation rate, and greater cost savings. Many court practices were the same in all drug courts, making it impossible for this study to detect their potential positive effects. Where variation was deemed sufficient (if more than 15 percent of drug courts varied in the practice), however, these could be examined in relation to outcomes. Bivariate correlations were also used to examine the effects of demographics on the outcomes. T-tests were used to determine what court-level practices affected court-level outcomes.
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The analysis of costs was calculated using budget information from fiscal year 2010. Carey and Waller (2011) used Transactional Institutional Cost Analysis (TICA) to calculate cost per transaction; costs associated with the drug court program (in seven drug court sites); costs associated with outcomes, that is, costs for transactions other than, and subsequent to, those associated with the drug court program (in all 20 drug court sites); and cost savings related to lower recidivism. The average initial cost of the drug court program was $16,411 per participant. The average cost for processing an offender in the traditional criminal justice system (“business as usual”) was $9,389, about half the drug court program cost. This latter calculation underestimated the total cost, since it did not include any treatment expenses. The results of the study showed average 3-year cost savings to the State of $6,812 per person relative to the cost of doing “business as usual.” This figure increased to savings of $16,933 per person when victimization costs were included. The study also concluded that cost savings occurred from the beginning of participation in the program. Factoring in the initial program costs, as well as taxpayer and victimization costs, savings of $2.41 accrued in the public safety system for every $1 invested in the drug court program after 3 years. After 5 years, savings of $4.02 accrued for every $1 invested. The net savings of only the cohorts in this study throughout the 21 Oregon Drug Courts was estimated at nearly $120 million.
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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Despite the study by Carey and Waller (2011) showing significantly less recidivism for drug court participants, results varied considerably between different drug courts across Oregon. Thirty-eight practices were identified as showing the most promise in achieving higher graduation rates, lowering recidivism rates, and/or producing cost savings. These best practices ranged from how drug courts integrated alcohol and other drug treatment services into the justice system case processing to how abstinence was monitored. For example, the researchers found that drug courts where the judge, coordinator, both attorneys, probation, treatment, and law enforcement attended court sessions had less than half the recidivism and achieved 25 percent higher cost savings. The inclusion of participants with prior or current violence charges was not related to program outcomes, indicating that the drug courts are equally effective for these offenders. Similarly, accepting non–drug use charges (drug trafficking, property offenses, and forgery) was significantly related to lower recidivism.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Carey, Shannon M., and Mark S. Waller. 2011. Oregon Drug Court Cost Study: Statewide Costs and Promising Practices. Final Report. Portland, Ore.: NPC Research.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Douglas County Circuit Court, Oregon Judicial Department. 2009. “Drug Court.” Accessed Feb. 26, 2011.

National Association of Drug Court Professionals. 1997. Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Court Programs Office.

National Association of Drug Court Professionals. N/d. “NADCP.” Accessed Feb. 26, 2011.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Adult Drug Courts
Drug courts are specialized courts that combine drug treatment with the legal and moral authority of the court in an effort to break the cycle of drug use and drug related crime. The practice was rated Promising for reducing recidivism; Promising for reducing alcohol and drug-related offenses (with a 13 percent lower rate compared to nonparticipants); but No Effects for reducing multiple substance use.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Drug and alcohol offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Drugs & Substance Abuse - Multiple substances
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Program Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, Courts

Program Type: Alcohol and Drug Therapy/Treatment, Alternatives to Incarceration, Drug Court, Individual Therapy, Probation/Parole Services, Wraparound/Case Management

Targeted Population: Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Offenders

Current Program Status: Active

Shannon M. Carey
Vice President and Senior Research Associate
NPC Research
5100 SW Macadam Avenue, Suite 575
Portland OR 97239
Phone: 503.243.2436 ext: 104