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Measuring recidivism in a juvenile drug court: Systematic outcome study of a juvenile drug court using historical information (Pitts 2006)

  • Findings

    See findings section of this profile.

    Evidence Rating

    Low Causal Evidence

Citation

Pitts, W. (2006). Measuring recidivism in a juvenile drug court: Systematic outcome study of a juvenile drug court using historical information. The Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, 3(1), 17-34.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to evaluate the effect of participating in a juvenile drug court in Farmington, New Mexico, on recidivism.
  • The author used historical data from official court records to compare the recidivism outcomes of youth who participated in the drug court with a comparison group of drug court-eligible youth who did not become drug court clients.
  • The study found that participation in the juvenile drug court program was associated with lower overall recidivism 16 months or later after completion of the program.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the analysis did not include controls for existing differences between the study groups. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the drug court; other factors likely contributed.

Intervention Examined

The Juvenile Drug Court Program

Features of the Intervention

The Eleventh Judicial District Juvenile Drug Court has served juvenile drug offenders in San Juan County, New Mexico, since 2000. To be eligible for the program, youth must not have prior violent felony adjudications, prior sex offenses, or current first degree felony offenses. The current offense must also be drug- or alcohol-related. The drug court approach includes mandatory, frequent drug testing and close supervision while providing drug treatment placements and other services, with the goal of reducing drug use and recidivism.

Features of the Study

The author used historical court records to compare the recidivism outcomes of youth who participated in the drug court with a comparison group of drug court-eligible youth who did not become drug court clients. Youth in the comparison group were under the supervision of the local probation department. The treatment and comparison groups were matched on sex, race and ethnicity, age, type of offense, presence of a substance abuse history, geographical location, drug court eligibility criteria, and date of exit from supervision.

Findings

  • The study found a statistically significant relationship between participating in the drug court and overall recidivism, which included new juvenile referrals and new adult arrests.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Although the author matched treated youth to drug court-eligible youth who did not participate on a number of important indicators of demographic characteristics and previous offenses, statistically significant differences between the groups remained on their enrollment status in school and employment at the time of drug court intake. The author did not control for these differences when comparing the outcomes of the two groups of youth. Therefore, the estimated effects could reflect that the drug court participants were more likely to pursue productive activity (in school or work) even in the absence of the drug court program. For this reason, the study cannot receive a moderate evidence rating, the highest rating available to nonexperimental analyses.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the analysis did not include controls for existing differences between the study groups. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the drug court; other factors likely contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2016