The judge makes the difference in drug court

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A five-year study shows drug courts can reduce substance abuse and crime, but effectiveness hinges on the judge. In the U.S., there are nearly 1,400 adult drug courts, which couple substance-abuse treatment with close judicial supervision in lieu of incarceration.

The most extensive study of drug courts – a five-year examination of 23 courts and six comparison jurisdictions in eight states – found that these court programs can significantly decrease drug use and criminal behavior, with positive outcomes ramping upward as participants sensed their judge treated them more fairly, showed greater respect and interest in them, and gave them more chances to talk during courtroom proceedings.

“Judges are central to the goals of reducing crime and substance use. Judges who spend time with participants, support them, and treat them with respect are the ones who get results,” said the Urban Institute’s Shelli Rossman, who led the research team from the Institute’s Justice Policy Center, the Center for Court Innovation, and RTI International.

Drug court participants who had more status hearings with the judge and received more praise from the judge later reported committing fewer crimes and using drugs less often than those who had less contact and praise. Court programs whose judges exhibited the most respectfulness, fairness, enthusiasm, and knowledge of each individual’s case prevented more crimes than other courts and prevented more days of drug use. And, when drug court participants reported more positive attitudes toward their judge, they cut drug use and crime even more.

While drug court costs are higher than business-as-usual case processing, they save money, the study determined, by significantly reducing the number of crimes, re-arrests, and days incarcerated. Drug courts save an average of $5,680 per participant, returning a net benefit of $2 for every $1 spent.
Drug courts emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s as drug arrests and prosecutions exploded, overwhelming traditional courts’ capacity to process cases expeditiously.

In Orleans Parish, drug court is held in Sections B, C, G, H, I, J and magistrate court, according to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court website.

To view the study, click here.

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