Kralstein, D. (2008). Evaluation of the Suffolk County juvenile treatment court: Process and impact findings. New York: Center for Court Innovation.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of Suffolk County’s juvenile drug court on recidivism.
- The study used propensity scores based on state and county administrative records to match juveniles who participated in the drug court to similar juveniles in the year before the introduction of the drug court. The author used regression analysis to estimate the relationship between participation in the juvenile drug court and the number and rate of arrests 18 and 24 months following the initial petition.
- The study found no statistically significant relationship between the juvenile drug court and recidivism.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the study did not account for other changes that could have taken place at the same time as the introduction of the drug court and affected juvenile recidivism. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the juvenile drug court, and not other factors. However, the study found no statistically significant effects.
Suffolk County’s Juvenile Drug Court
Features of the Intervention
The Suffolk County juvenile drug court included three phases. The first phase was a program orientation during which youth were required to attend appointments, school, and weekly court appearances, and participate in drug testing at least three times per week. After being drug-free for one month, participants moved on to the second phase, which required court appearances twice a month, drug testing at least three times per week, and part-time employment (if the youth were old enough). After being drug-free for an additional consecutive eight months, participants moved onto the community acclamation phase, which included monthly court appearances and drug testing at least once per week. To graduate and receive reduced supervision and monitoring, participants had to participate in treatment, attend required meetings, and abstain from drug use for a year of clean time across all phases. The types of treatments included individual therapy, outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, 30-day diagnostic inpatient treatment, and short- and long-term residential treatment.
Features of the Study
The study took place at the Suffolk County Juvenile Treatment Court on Long Island, New York. The juvenile drug court was instituted in 2002, and the study used state and county administrative data from the year before program inception through 2004 to examine its effects. The study used a propensity-score matching method to select a comparison group of youth who entered the court system in 2001. Youth in this group had characteristics similar to the group of youth who participated in the drug court after the establishment of the court in 2002. Specifically, they had similar race, gender, living situation, charge type (assault or drug), indicator for prior petitions, and number of prior family member neglect cases. After matching, 133 drug court participants and 180 comparison group members remained in the analysis.
The author analyzed data from administrative sources, including the Suffolk County Family Court, New York State Family Court, Unified Case Management System, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and New York State Family Treatment Court Universal Treatment Application, which included data on program performance such as drug test results, court appearances, warrants, sanctions, rewards, and final program status. The author estimated the relationship between participation in the drug court and recidivism by comparing outcomes of the matched groups, controlling for the propensity score.
- The study found no statistically significant relationship between juvenile drug court and the rate or average number of new arrests.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The study used a sophisticated nonexperimental design involving a matching technique that produced a comparison group that was well matched to the treatment group on relevant characteristics. However, because the comparison group entered the court system in the year before the start of the county’s juvenile drug court program and the treatment group entered the court system after the start of the program, we cannot separate the effects of the drug court from effects caused by other changes in policies or practices occurring at about the same time. For instance, if the county adopted a no-tolerance arrest policy at the same time as the drug court, this could have resulted in more new arrests, independent of the drug court.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the study did not account for other changes that could have taken place at the same time as the introduction of the drug court and affected juvenile recidivism. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the juvenile drug court, and not other factors. However, the study found no statistically significant effects.