A Meta-Analytic Examination of Drug Treatment Courts: Do They Reduce Recidivism?

4. Conclusion

Drug treatment courts are now operating within six major cities in Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa) and many cities across the United States. The results of this meta-analysis suggest that such a response is an effective method of reducing future criminal behaviour compared to traditional responses. There are, however, several important additional findings and caveats.

First, it appears from the results of this meta-analysis that youth may not be suitable candidates for DTCs. Additional research is warranted, however, given the low number of studies using a youth sample to further examine a possible age effect.

Second, longer follow-up periods should be used in DTC research as it is likely that the benefits of DTC participation increase with time. In fact, the current findings suggest that sustained behavioural changes are a likely outcome of DTC participation.

Third, programs that provide services for one year to eighteen months are associated with improvements in recidivism compared to shorter or longer programs. It is therefore reasonable that services provided to DTC participants should be structured to range between one year and eighteen months.

Finally, methodology, as indicated in previous research (Latimer, 2001), has a significant impact on the reported effects of DTC effectiveness. In this meta-analysis, two study design characteristics emerged as important – random assignment and comparison group selection. It is understandable that random assignment is a difficult approach to use in a criminal justice setting, particularly as DTCs are typically voluntary programs and criminal justice professionals prefer to have influence over who ultimately participates. However, the choice to use drop-outs and/or non-completers clearly influences the results and should be avoided. Nonetheless, even when those who are eligible but do not participate are used as a comparison group (which appears to be the most rigorous method beyond random assignment), drug treatment courts still appear to have a positive impact on reducing recidivism.

While there are other issues that were not the subject of this research, such as the cost-effectiveness of DTCs, the results of this meta-analysis, which includes data on more than 17,000 offenders within 66 individual programs, provides clear support for the use of drug treatment courts as a method of reducing crime among offenders with substance abuse problems.