GAO Validates Drug Court Effectiveness

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The National Association of Drug Court Professionals Applauds New Report Confirming Drug Courts Reduce Crime and Substance Abuse, Save Money

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“The GAO report leaves little doubt that Drug Courts must remain a cornerstone of criminal justice reform,” said West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals is proud to announce that the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its fourth report on Drug Courts last week, concluding once again that Drug Courts reduce recidivism and save money. The report, ADULT DRUG COURTS: Studies Show Courts Reduce Recidivism, but DOJ Could Enhance Future Performance Measure Revision Efforts, validated existing Drug Court research by examining over 30 scientifically rigorous studies involving more than 50 Drug Courts throughout the country. The GAO was established to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government. The scope of this report was mandated by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Of the 32 Drug Court programs reviewed, 31 showed reductions in recidivism. Of those that performed statistical comparisons, the large majority (72%) reported statistically significant reductions in crime for the Drug Court participants. This conclusion is very much in line with those of several scientific meta-analyses, which all found that 75% to 80% of Drug Courts significantly reduced crime. In the GAO analysis, Drug Court participants were found to have up to a 26 percent lower rate of recidivism than comparison groups. Re-arrest rates for Drug Court graduates were found to be up to 58 percent below comparison groups.

“GAO reports are objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, and held to the highest research standards,” said Dr. Doug Marlowe, Chief of Science, Law and Policy with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “This report reinforces the scientific merit of Drug Court research, confirming that Drug Courts are a proven solution for reducing drug abuse and crime. We know beyond a reasonable doubt that at least 75 to 80 percent of Drug Courts achieve reliable and significant reductions in crime. This translates into large cost-savings for taxpayers averaging more than $6,000 per participant.”

The GAO reviewed 11 cost-benefit studies published between 2004 through 2011. These studies provided information to determine net-benefit, defined as the monetary benefit of reduced recidivism accrued to society from the Drug Court program through reduced future victimization and justice system expenditures, less the net costs of the Drug Court program. Drug Courts were found to have a cost-benefit as high as $47,852 per participant.

“The GAO report leaves little doubt that Drug Courts must remain a cornerstone of criminal justice reform,” said West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “Now more than ever, we must invest in cost-effective programs with proven results. Drug Courts break the cycle of drug addiction and crime, and do so with greater effectiveness and at less expense than any other strategy.”

The GAO included in its review the National Institute of Justice’s Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE), which it called “the most comprehensive study on Drug Courts to date.” This five-year study published in July also confirmed that Drug Courts significantly reduce recidivism and drug use. Additional benefits were found to include increases in employment, education, family functioning and financial stability. The MADCE cost-benefit analysis determined benefits of $6,208 to society per participant. The GAO concluded, “This is the broadest and most ambitious study of Drug Courts to date; it is well done analytically, and the results, as they relate to the impact of Drug Courts, are transparent and well described.”

In addition to examining Drug Court research, the GAO analyzed improvements made to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Drug Court grant program since the last GAO review in 2002. The GAO report indicated that steps taken by the Bureau of Justice Assistance within DOJ to redesign performance measures, including a new process used to assess a sample of Adult Drug Court grantees’ performance across a range of variables, have improved the implementation of federal Adult Drug Court grants. The GAO concluded that while there are still areas for improvement, DOJ’s process of revising its performance measures adheres to key practices.

“The Bureau of Justice Assistance within the Department of Justice continues to demonstrate outstanding leadership in administering and reporting on Adult Drug Court grants, and striving to improve data collection,” said Huddleston. “The GAO report clearly demonstrates the importance of new BJA performance measures, and the responsibility of grant recipients to comply with reporting requirements.”

About the National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Drug Courts combine rigorous drug treatment and accountability to compel and support drug-using offenders to change their lives. After 22 years of innovation, there are now over 2,600 Drug Courts located in all 50 states. Since 1994, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), a non-profit organization 501 (c) (3) representing over 27,000 multidisciplinary justice professionals and community leaders, has worked tirelessly at the national, state and local level to create and enhance Drug Courts. NADCP and its professional services branch, the National Drug Court Institute, have directly trained 65,440 Drug Court professionals from all fifty states and U.S. territories as well as fourteen other countries. The Drug Court field has grown from 347 programs in 1998 to 2,600 Drug Courts currently in operation. NADCP is recognized as the experts in the field of addiction and the criminal justice system. For more information, visit


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