Drug courts may reap big savings for corrections and taxpayers.

Author:Wells, Doris
Position:NIJ Update

Authors' Note: Points of view expressed in this article do not represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Offenders who participated in the Multnomah County Drug Court in Oregon were rearrested less frequently than offenders going through traditional court, according to a National Institute of Justice study. The study, A Detailed Cost Analysis in a Mature Drug Court Setting: A Cost-benefit Evaluation of the Multnomah County Drug Court (1) indicates that the drug court participants also cost local taxpayers $5,071 less on average over a 30-month period than those processed through traditional court. Researchers attributed a large portion of the savings to reductions in jail time. These findings show promise for drug courts as a way of containing corrections costs while also achieving effective treatment for drug-abusing offenders.

Processing Offenders: Drug vs. Traditional Court

Drug courts use a team approach. The judge, defense attorney, district attorney and treatment program personnel work together to draft personalized plans offenders can use to help themselves stop or reduce drug abuse and criminal activity. Typical plans might include:

* Status hearings -- Offenders must appear before the judge weekly or biweekly to review their progress in treatment, address problems, and receive sanctions or rewards.

* Sanctions and rewards -- The judge applies graduated sanctions for failures or rewards for accomplishments.

* Drug testing -- Participants are tested for illicit drug use, unlike in traditional court.

* Treatment -- Drug court participants are required to participate in an alcohol or drug dependency treatment program.

Receiving sanctions or rewards consistently and immediately during court hearings is one of the main motivations for offender compliance.

Traditional court processing in Multnomah County includes a grand jury hearing and hearings during a variety of court appearances that could include assignment call, drug call, motion to suppress hearings, preplea hearings and plea hearings. Trial defendants and many court and law enforcement personnel are expected to attend most hearings. If trial defendants fail to appear, a warrant is issued for their arrest.

Determining Cost Savings

Researchers examined the records of 1,167 nonviolent drug abuse offenders in Multnomah County. About half were assigned to drug court and the rest to traditional court. Costs for each person were determined by adding...

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