Mackin, J., Lucas, L., Lambarth, C., Waller, M., Herrera, A., Carey, S., & Finigan, M. (2010). St. Mary’s County juvenile drug court outcome and cost evaluation. Portland, OR: NPC Research.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of participation in a juvenile drug court program in St. Mary’s County, Oregon, on recidivism.
- The study used administrative data from the departments of Juvenile Services, Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Health and Mental Hygiene to compare outcomes of youth who participated in juvenile drug court with outcomes from a group of similar, drug court-eligible youth who did not participate.
- The study found no statistically significant effects on recidivism, including total number of rearrests, rearrests for drug charges, and rearrest rates over a two-year period.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we would be somewhat confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to participation in the juvenile drug court, but other factors might also have contributed. However, the study did not find any statistically significant effects.
St. Mary's County Juvenile Drug Court
Features of the Intervention
The St. Mary’s County juvenile drug court program consisted of four phases, which involved varying dosages of the following program elements:
- Drug court hearings
- Case manager meetings
- Inpatient or outpatient group and individual counseling
- Family assessment and parenting skills training as necessary
- Drug testing
- Mandatory attendance in school/general equivalency degree preparation or work
- Work on a community project
- Work toward education or employment goals
Youth advanced through the phases of the program by abstaining from drug use. They received incentives such as verbal praise, less restrictive reporting and curfews, tickets to community events, and gift cards. Participants could also receive sanctions, such as essay writing; community service; increased levels of reporting, testing, and the introduction of electronic monitoring; or moving back to an earlier program phase for engaging in unacceptable behavior. After completing all four program phases and 120 substance-free days, youth successfully completed the program and were eligible to expunge the cases from their juvenile criminal records.
Features of the Study
The study compared the outcomes of youth who participated in the juvenile drug court from February 2004 to September 2008 with those of a matched comparison group. The comparison group included youth who lived in the same county from February 2004 to September 2008; committed a crime at an age younger than 18; had no history of violent offenses or drug trafficking; had received moderate-, high-, or intensive-level supervision; and had a juvenile record with a drug, alcohol, assault, theft, burglary, or trespassing charge, but did not participate in the juvenile drug court. The comparison group was matched to the drug court group by gender, race and ethnicity, age index at arrest, type of charge for eligible arrest, and prior criminal history. The authors used statistical methods to compare the outcomes of drug court and comparison youth, controlling for gender, age, race, time at risk to reoffend, and characteristics of arrests.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects of the juvenile drug court on recidivism, including the total number of rearrests for all offense types, the number of rearrests specifically for drug charges, and the rates of rearrests over a two-year period.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The outcomes for total number of rearrests and the number of rearrests for drug offenses reflected whether the intervention affected the frequency of new arrests, whereas the rate of rearrest over a two-year period estimated the overall effect on recidivism.
To increase the sample of potential comparison group youth, the authors had to include youth under moderate-level supervision in addition to youth under high or intensive supervision, which was originally the target group of interest. As a result, there might be differences in the average risk level between the drug court youth and comparison youth, which could affect the likelihood of rearrest independent of whether the youth participated in drug court. The statistical analysis did not include supervision level as a control variable.
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 would be somewhat confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to participation in the juvenile drug court, but other factors might also have contributed. However, the study did not find statistically significant effects.