Government Study Finds Nearly Half of Drug Courts Do Not Reduce Recidivism

For Immediate Release

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Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Margaret Dooley-Sammuli 213-291 4190

Government Study Finds Nearly Half of Drug Courts Do Not Reduce Recidivism

Only 18 of 32 Drug Courts Showed Statistically Significant Reduction in Re-Arrest Rates of Drug Court Participants

WASHINGTON - The Government Accountability Office last week released a report, in which it finds that only 18 of 32 drug courts – or just over 50% – showed statistically significant reductions in recidivism among participants. That is, almost half of drug courts do not reduce re-arrest rates of their participants below the rates of people who went through the normal criminal justice process.

"The message here is: enter a drug court at your own risk. The chance that you'll enter a drug court that might help you avoid getting arrested again is about 50-50, the equivalent of a coin toss," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Clearly, the popularity that drug courts enjoy is not supported by the evidence."

The GAO's findings echo those of the Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE), the longest and largest ever study of drug courts. Funded by the National Institute of Justice, MADCE recently reported a re-arrest rate for drug court participants that was 10 percentage points below that of the comparison group, but that the difference was not statistically significant. This means that the study effectively found no difference in re-arrest rates between the groups, as the decrease may be the result of chance.

"Drug courts have actually helped to increase, not decrease, the criminal justice entanglement of people who struggle with drugs and have failed to provide quality treatment," said Daniel Abrahamson, Drug Policy Alliance's Director of Legal Affairs. "Only sentencing reform and expanded investment in health approaches to drug use will stem the flow of drug arrests and incarceration. The feel-good nature of drug courts hasn't translated into results. U.S. drug policy must be based not on good intentions, but on robust, reliable research."

The Drug Policy Alliance this year released Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use, which found that drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety; leave many people worse off for trying; and have actually made the criminal justice system more punitive toward addiction – not less. For example, people who struggle the most with a drug problem are more likely to be kicked out of a drug court and incarcerated. Although relapse is a common and predictable occurrence during treatment, drug courts often punish relapse with jail time.

The GAO's study is available at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-53. Results from MADCE are available at: http://www.urban.org/publications/412353.html.

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DPA Network is the nation's leading organization working to end the war on drugs. We envision new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights and a just society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

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