Letter to the Editor
April 18, 2011

We are writing in response to your Guest Column (March 31, 2011) written by Hadar Aviram of Hastings College of the Law. Professor Aviram references a This American Life episode and asks how we know that Drug Courts actually help clients and reduce recidivism.

We know that Drug Courts work because of conclusive research – far more than any other criminal justice program in existence today.  Professor Aviram is correct that there are few true experimental design studies utilizing random assignment that have been conducted on Drug Courts or any other criminal justice programs. She also correctly notes the problematic nature of conducting such studies in a criminal justice environment and advocates for the use of quasi-experimental research methods that utilize matched comparison groups that control for differences between the treatment and the business-as-usual group through the use of propensity scoring.

The very research that Professor Aviram advocates for Drug Courts has been completed, in fact, numerous times.  A 2005 meta-analysis conducted by the United States Government Accountability Office of 27 evaluations that used experimental or quasi-experimental design indicates that Drug Court programs result in recidivism reductions. More recent meta-analyses have resulted in similar findings. Five different Drug Court meta-analyses of experimental and quasi-experimental studies conclude that Drug Courts significantly reduce re-arrest or reconviction rates by an average of 8-26% with the most successful Drug Courts reducing crime by 35-40%.

Preliminary results from the national study of Drug Courts, the Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE) sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by the Research Triangle, the Urban Institute and the Center for Court Innovation also found that Drug Court participants had significantly less involvement in criminal activity.

There is also strong evidence that, in addition to reducing crime, Drug Courts are a cost-effective intervention. A cost-analysis of 9 California Drug Courts that utilized a matched comparison group and propensity scoring found that for every dollar invested in Drug Court programs between $1.40 and $16.10 is saved as a result of reduced recidivism. 

Professor Aviram also identifies recent negative reviews from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to support her view that Drug Court outcomes are unsupported by sound scientific research, lack appropriate defense counsel, and are expensive and ineffective.

Unfortunately, each organization she identified -- as well as the reports they released -- are misinformed or contain factual inaccuracies. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals has responded in detail to the JPI, DPA and NACDL reports. For a more informed perspective, we urge your readers, including Professor Aviram, to consult a response authored by the Chief of Science, Law and Policy for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ (NADCP) that addresses these flawed reports.  The response may be found at http://www.nadcp.org/setting-the-record-straight.


Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr., Missouri Supreme Court and Chairman of the NADCP Board of Directors

Judge Harold Kahn, Superior Court of California, San Francisco

Judge Stephen Manley, Superior Court of California, Santa Clara

Lisa Lightman, Director, Collaborative Court Programs, San Francisco Superior Court