Mackin, J., Lucas, L., Lambarth, C., Herrera, T., Waller, M., Carey, S., & Finigan, M. (2010). Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court outcome and cost evaluation. Portland, OR: NPC Research.
- The study examined the impact of participation in the Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court on drug use and recidivism.
- The authors used a nonexperimental design, matching youth who participated in the juvenile drug court with a comparison group of similar youth who were eligible to participate in juvenile drug court, but instead participated in the traditional juvenile justice system. The authors used administrative data to compare the mean number of juvenile rearrests over a two-year follow-up period.
- The study found that drug court participants had significantly fewer juvenile rearrests, both overall and specifically for drug charges, than comparison youth.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court, but other factors might also have contributed.
The Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court
Features of the Intervention
The Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court was a dispositional alternative program for youth in the juvenile justice system with substance abuse problems; the program operated in multiple locations in Baltimore County. The program had four phases, which required participants to attend drug court hearings and perform community service; take random drug tests; and participate in case management, group and individual therapy, education, and family counseling. Service receipt was intensive during the first two phases, comprising frequent meetings and drug tests, and transitions to less intensive after-care services during the last two phases. Participants were involved with the program for a minimum of 12 months, and the average time in the program was about 13 months for all youth, regardless of whether they graduated from the program. Following successful completion of the program, including abstaining from drugs or alcohol for 90 consecutive days, the state’s attorney dropped the charges against the youth.
To be eligible for the program, youth had to be adjudicated delinquent, residents of Baltimore County, ages 13 to 17 at the time of offense, and have no history of violent offenses or drug trafficking. Only youth committing eligible offenses—including drug, alcohol, or tobacco use; destruction of property; second-degree assault; theft; burglary; and trespassing—were admitted.
Features of the Study
The authors matched 186 youth who participated in the drug court program from 2003 to 2008 with 147 court-involved youth who received traditional court processing. The youth in the comparison group were under moderate-, high-, or intensive-level juvenile supervision from 2004 to 2008. The treatment and comparison groups were matched on demographic characteristics, type of charge, level of supervision, and prior criminal history. Most of the treatment and comparison group members were males and white, and the mean age at arrest was 15. The authors used statistical techniques to compare outcomes of juvenile drug court participants with those of youth in the comparison group. The authors controlled for gender, age at qualifying arrest, ethnicity, number and type of prior arrests, type of qualifying arrest, and time at risk to reoffend.
- The study found that Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court participants had significantly fewer juvenile rearrests for drug charges and significantly lower juvenile rearrest rates overall than youth in the comparison group; 56 percent of all drug court participants were rearrested during the two-year follow up period versus 76 percent of the comparison group youth.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The Department of Juvenile Services did not release the names of comparison group youth, so the study could not obtain adult criminal justice data for them. Because more than 85 percent of the treatment group (and, presumably, a similar proportion of the comparison group) became adults at some point during the two-year follow-up period, looking only at juvenile arrest records might not capture the full impact of the program.
Because the comparison group was composed of eligible youth who were not referred to or declined to participate in juvenile drug court, it is possible that the results were affected by characteristics of the comparison group (for example, psychological, addiction-related, or material hardship-related barriers to program participation) that could be correlated with the outcome of interest. It is not clear how many comparison group youth decided not to participate in the program or were not offered the program.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Baltimore County Juvenile Drug Court, but other factors might also have contributed.