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Reconsidering Drug Courts

In Brief

March 23, 2011, 1:00 am

Drug courts take a beating in a March 21 report by drug law reform group Drug Policy Alliance.

Entitled “Drug Courts Are Not the Answer,” the report states that studies showing drug court reduces incarceration time are unreliable because they are conducted by “creators of the programs being evaluated.” The study argues drug court participants can spend more time incarcerated than they would have through regular sentencing and that the positive outcomes for some graduates “translate into little public safety benefit.”

Report contributor Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA deputy state director in Southern California, tells SFR that anecdotes of success in drug court should not be used as evidence to decide policy.

“There are people who do well in drug courts, but we can’t ignore the significant number of people who can’t do well,” Dooley-Sammuli says. 

The DPA report does not advocate eliminating drug courts, but for discontinuing their use with those convicted only of drug-law offenses. 

State Drug Court Coordinator Peter Bochert points to an April 2010 Missouri Law Quarterly article that cites National Institute of Justice research proving drugs courts’ efficacy in reducing crime and substance abuse. That article notes that drug court criticism is often entwined with a drug legalization agenda.

“It’s hard to respond to papers that start out by talking of the lack of scientific rigor in the analysis of drug courts when that is patently and categorically untrue,” Bochert says.


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