A Comparison of Male and Female Drug Court Participants.

Author:Johnson, Shelley

Drug courts emerged during the 1980s as a way to improve the flow of drug-related cases through backlogged court systems and to better address the treatment needs of drug-involved offenders (Drug Court Programs Office, 1997). Since 1989, with the inception of the Miami Drug Court, the concept has been implemented in more than 300 jurisdictions nationwide (Drug Court Programs Office, 1998). Drug court programs typically combine early intervention, judicial involvement in monitoring offenders' treatment progress, and the use of sanctions and incentives to encourage an offender's abstinence from drugs and alcohol (Goldkamp, 1994; Drug Court Programs Office, 1997). In many jurisdictions, offenders who successfully complete substance abuse treatment programs are rewarded with dismissal of the original charges or reduced penalties.

Drug courts differ from traditional court models in several ways. First, drug courts downplay the adversarial in favor of the collaborative process by recognizing that the system must be involved in drug abuse treatment (Drug Court Programs Office, 1997). Prosecutors and defense counselors work together with judges, treatment professionals and probation officers to achieve a case outcome that provides the best opportunity for the offender's success in treatment. Second, judges are key players in the treatment and supervision of drug-involved offenders (Goldkamp, 1994; Tauber, 1994; Drug Court Programs Office, 1997). The involvement of the judge differs remarkably from traditional models in which judicial monitoring is made difficult by overburdened court dockets. Third, drug courts make provisions for intervention to occur immediately after arrest. Prompt identification of drug involved-offenders and immediate intervention capitalizes on the crisis of arrest, making it difficult for offenders to deny their problems. Further, minimizing the time from arrest to disposition is believed to maximize an offender's motivation for change (Defining Drug Courts, 1997).

Research substantiates the role that the criminal justice system can play in treatment success. According to Steven Belenko (1998), drug courts nationally have been successful in retaining clients in treatment and reducing drug use and criminality. An evaluation of Miami's Drug Court Program found that 60 percent of participants had favorable treatment outcomes and that drug court participants had lower rates of rearrest than comparison groups of felony drug and nondrug offenders participating in other programs (Goldkamp, 1994). Further, an outcome evaluation of the Maricopa County Drug Court demonstrated a reduction in recidivism and an overall delay in rearrest rates among drug court participants (Hepburn, Johnston and Rogers, 1994). Finally, data from the Escambia County Drug Court indicate that graduates are significantly less likely to be rearrested in comparison with those who do not graduate (Peter, Haas and Murrin, 1999).

Although preliminary evaluation studies show promising results, further research on a variety of drug courts serving various populations is needed. Specifically, Belenko (1999) indicates there are a number of research areas that have not been adequately addressed, including: assessing the structural design of different drug courts, the effectiveness of drug treatment, the outcomes of drug court programs and the different target populations being served. It is still unclear which aspects of these programs reduce recidivism and substance abuse. A related question of importance is which populations are likely to benefit most from drug court participation. However, identifying the most appropriate target population is difficult given the great diversity among drug court models and populations served (Belenko, 1998).

Another increasingly important area of concern with the drug court model is the impact it may have on women. Research indicates that "from 1982 to 1991, the number of women arrested for drug offenses, including possession, manufacturing and sale, increased by 89 percent" (Wellish, Prendergast and Anglin, 1994). Further, women may present different needs related to their drug use. For example, many women report that the onset of drug use starts early and continues on a daily basis (Pollock, 1998). Most women have engaged in prior treatment, are single mothers and receive very little support from their families (Wellisch, Prendergast and Anglin, 1994). A review of the drug court literature indicates a gap in the knowledge of gender differences among drug court participants.

Current Study

The primary purpose of this article is to provide a profile of the adult men and women being served by a variety of drug courts in Ohio. Because drug courts are a recent innovation in Ohio, outcome data have not been collected statewide. The profile of the population will cover a number of areas deemed important in the current literature base. For example, researchers now are focusing on identifying factors that differentiate the probability of success. Many studies have concluded that factors such as marital status, education...

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