Problem Solving Courts Drug Court

ProblemSolving Courts: Drug Court

ProblemSolving Courts: Drug Court

Theestablishment of problem solving courts is part of the ongoing courtreforms that are intended to improve the outcome of court processesand outcomes. Casey &amp Rottman (2003) defined problem solvingcourts as courts that are established to address the underlyingchallenges (such as addiction, prostitution, domestic violence, andmental health problems), which are of the major concern of thecontemporary society. Problem solving courts differ considerably bythe type of cases they handle and from one jurisdiction to another.Although these courts focus on different social issues, they allemphasize on close collaboration between the criminal judicial systemand the service communities. This is achieved by the use ofmultidisciplinary as well as problems solving approaches to deal withthe underlying problems of individuals brought before the court. Thispaper will address various aspects of the problem solving courts(including their history, intended purpose, target population,measures of success, and financial implications) that are necessaryfor the establishment of a problem solving courts. The problemsolving court will focus on the issue of addiction in a mid-levelcity of Atlanta with a population estimate of 443,775 (WashingtonSuperior Court, 2007). The establishment of drug courts is aneffective intervention for substance abusing offenders, but itssuccess requires the utilization of key components and targetingappropriate population.

Historyof drug courts

Drugcourts emerged in 1980s and have undergone significant evolutionwithin the last three decades. The first drug court was establishedin 1985 in Florida when Miami was considered as the world capital forcocaine (Reimer, 2009). During this period, the number of offendersarrested for drug possession increased by 93 % and 73 % of defendantswere found positive when tested for cocaine. This resulted inovercrowding in traditional courts, which overwhelmed the lawenforcement agencies. This means that the establishment of the firstdrug court in Miami-Dade was driven by the increase in cases andincarceration rates for substance use offenders. The purpose ofestablishing the drug court was to reverse the long-term failure ofthe conventional courts to resolve the issue of addiction. The drugcourt incorporated the treatment programs and social services underthe conventional guise of the judicial system. Other courts that wereestablished in states follow similar processes, but slightdifferences may be observed from jurisdiction to the other.


Purposeand goals of drug court

Thepurpose of establishing a drug court in Atlanta city is to deal withdrug using delinquents within their own community, using effectiveprograms that are in place. The primary goal of establishing a drugcourt is to place substance using delinquents in appropriate courttracks that has the capacity to tailor the resource commitment andthe level of intervention to the needs of the drug users as well asthe needs of the society (Washington Superior Court, 2007). The drugcourt will provide will provide closer and comprehensive supervisionof the substance using offenders compared to other forms ofcommunity-based supervision programs. The court will remandindividual offenders, document participation, and give rewards forcases of positive progress.


Thedrug court will target the drug offenders in the city of Atlanta.Atlanta is one of the cities located in the state of Georgia with atotal population of 443,775 (United States Census Bureau, 2012). Mostimportantly, research has shown that Atlanta and Georgia at large hasthe largest prison population where 75 % of the inmates are substanceabuse offenders (Lukachick, 2011). This means that all the othercategories of crime constitute about 25 % of the prison population.Overrepresentation of drug offenders in Atlanta prison systemsnecessitates the creation of drug court to address this social issue.However, the court will target offenders with chronic addiction andserious cases of substance related offenses. This means that that thetargeted persons should be high-risk offenders with seriousantisocial backgrounds and meager prognosis for success underconventional treatment programs. This is based on the previousfindings that drug courts have greater impact on high-risk offenderswho have serious antisocial backgrounds and several felonyconvictions (Marlowe, 2010).

Effectivenessof drug courts in reducing recidivism

Thecapacity of drug courts to reduce recidivism among the drug offendersis one of the key variables used to assess their effectiveness. Drugcourts reducing the rate of recidivism among the juvenile and theadult drug offenders. A research conducted by Mitchell, Wilson,Eggers &amp Mackenzie (2012) indicated that drug courts reducegeneral recidivism from 50 % to 38 % and recidivism associated withdrugs from 50 % to 37 % among the adults. The rate of reduction inrecidivism continues for a period of at least three years. Althoughthe research suggests that the effectiveness of drug courts inreducing recidivism in juvenile drug courts is less compared to adultcourts (from 50 % to 43.5 %), the rate of reduction is stillreasonable and warrants the establishment of drug courts to addressthe issue of drug-related crimes (Mitchell 2012). The lower levels ofeffectiveness observed in the juvenile drug courts are associatedwith use of lesser demanding measures (such as less frequent hearing,drug testing, and shorter duration of participation) compared toadult juvenile courts. This means that the use of more demandinginterventions will increase the rate of effectiveness in both theadult and juvenile drug courts.

Effectivenessof drug courts in reducing crime

Thehigh capacity of drug courts to reduce the rate of recidivismindicates that these courts are suitable tools that can be used bythe criminal judicial system to deter crimes. This is becausereduction in recidivism means that the number of potential drugoffenders has declined in the society. For example, a meta-analysisof the research works addressing the effectiveness of drug courtsrevealed that these courts reduced crime rates by 8-26 % on average,which was a reflection of 10-15 % reduction in the rate of recidivism(Marlowe, 2010). The same meta-analysis revealed that 78 % of thedrug courts reduced crime in their respective cities by 35-40 %. Thisshows that drug courts reduce the rate of crime by 45 % more thanother sentencing alternatives. This implies that the establishment ofdrug courts is positively associated with a reduction in the rate ofcrime. Therefore, establishing a drug court in Atlanta will be aneffective strategy for countering the increasing rate of drug-relatedcrimes in the city.

Drugcourts enhance compliance

Inmost cases, addiction disorders related to substance abuse arechronic and are characterized with the high risk of relapsing andpoor compliance with treatment. A successful abstinence fromsubstance abuse among individuals who are already addicted requires apersistent pattern of reducing frequency of use. Most of theconventional treatment approaches aim at enhancing the clients’capacity to develop adequate skills to cope with high riskcircumstances, manage their personal ambivalence during recovery, andidentify circumstances that may stimulate their craving (U.S.Department of Justice, 2014). Drug courts, unlike the traditionaltreatment facilities, have a coordinated strategy that enhancescompliance. These courts have the capacity to respond tonon-compliance using a continuum of responses. According to NationalAssociation of Drug Court Professional (2011) lack of closesupervision of the substance abusing offenders by judges and enhancedaccountability of offenders leads to a 70 % drop out of therapyprematurely. Drug courts have comprehensive supervision compared tocommunity-based programs, and this increases their capacity to keepoffenders in treatment for a long period. This leads to successfultreatment of addiction, which in turn reduces the probability ofrecidivism.

Effectivenessof drug courts in restoring families

Althoughthe restoration and reunification of families is not the primary rolethe criminal judicial system, reuniting families reduce the rate ofrecidivism. According to Marlowe &amp Carey (2012) approximately60-80 % of cases of child abuse and neglect are associated withsubstance abuse by parents of guardians. However, it is estimatedthat about 60 % of the parents and guardians in drug dependency casesfail to comply with addiction treatment and 80 % of them do notcomplete the therapy (Marlowe &amp Carey, 2012). The capacity of thedrug courts to emphasize on compliance and place accountability onthe drug offenders increases the chances for these addicts tocomplete the treatment and come back to their normal life. Thisincreases the rate of family re-unification by fifty percent amongoffenders in drug courts than in community-based programs. Thisreduces the chances for offers to commit crimes related to addictionand child abuse.

Financialimplications of drug courts

Costsper drug offender

Drugcourts have similar features and operations to the conventionalcourts, but they have additional services that address the underlyingsocial problem of substance addiction. Consequently, these courtshave additional features and costs that are intended to enhance theircapacity to resolve the problem of addiction while administeringjustice to offenders. Table 1 shows the average cost associated withthe process of administering justice in a drug court.

Table 1: Average cost of delivering justice in drug cost per offender


Cost ($)

Court visits








Drug test


Jail days


Total program cost


Source:U.S. Department of Justice (2004)

Table1 contains the average costs of handling a single case of drugoffender in a period of one year. Table 1 show that the cost oftreating the drug offenders in the drug court is among thechallenging investment that the criminal justice system will face.


Althoughdrug courts are associated with additional services and costs thatresult from handling the underlying cause (addiction) of the offense,they lead to significant cost savings. Cost savings are realized bythe offender, the court system, and the society following a decreasein the cost of providing some services or avoiding some servicesoffered in conventional courts. Nearly all categories of servicesoffered in drug courts, apart from the treatment of offenders, havecost savings as shown in table 2.

Table 2: Cost savings per offender in a period of one year


Cost savings ($)

Low enforcement


Community justice




Public defender


District Attorney


County circuit court


Children welfare




Total cost savings


Source:Marlowe &amp Carey (2012)

Costsavings on treatment has been put in braces to indicate that is anegative value. Cost savings on children welfare refer to cost thatare saved when families are reunited following the successfultreatment of addicted parents or guardians. This shows that theestablishment of drug courts has financial benefits (cost savings) inspite the fact that they deliver specialized services to drugoffenders.

Keycomponents for a successful drug court

Thereare ten components that are necessary to ensure that the drug courtconducts its operations successfully and achieves an improved levelof court processes and outcome. First, the drug court should use amultidisciplinary approach. This means that the court operationsshould be accomplished with concerted efforts of differentprofessionals (including defense counsel, treatment providers,judges, and low enforcement officers. Research shows that failure toconsider the contribution of any one of these professionals reducesefficiency of drug courts by 50 % (Marlowe, 2010).

Secondly,the drug court should conduct frequent testing, especially urinetest, which should be done randomly. This ensures that drug offenderswho continue using illicit drugs while under treatment are detected(Marlowe, 2010).

Third,the drug court should conduct the judicial status hearings at leastonce a month until the drug offenders attain a stable condition(Marlowe, 2010). This ensures that offenders comply with thetreatment.

Fourth,the drug court should emphasize on graduated rewards and sanctions inorder to improve the outcome of court processes. According to Marlowe(2010) the use of gradually increasing sanctions (such as shortintervals of detention) increases the outcome of the court processesamong the drug offenders.

Fifth,therapy for substance abuse is one of the key components of drugcourts. The court should focus on long tenure of treatment because itleads to a better outcome. Some of the treatment approaches(including the moral recognition therapy) used by drug courts leadsto better outcome compared to community-based programs (Marlowe,2010).

Sixth,the court should partner with community-based and public agencies toenhance the effectiveness of drug courts.

Seventh,the court should integrate the substance abuse treatment with thejustice system processes to enhance the outcome.

Eighth,the drug court should appropriate a non-adversarial strategy toenhance public safety and protect the rights of offenders.

Nine,the drug court should focus on early identification of eligibleoffenders in order to ensure that they are promptly placed under thetreatment program.

Lastly,the court should be monitored and regularly evaluated to determinewhether it is achieving the goals of the program and gauge itseffectiveness.


Thepurpose of this paper was to analyze the effectiveness of drug courtsin order to determine if it is necessary to establish such a court inthe city of Atlanta, Georgia. The decision to establish the drugcourt in Atlanta is first of all justified by the proportion of drugoffenders in the city, which currently stands at 75 % of alloffenses. Although the problems of drug-related offenses justify theexistence of drug courts, the criminal judicial system shouldconsider the effectiveness of the drug courts that have already beenestablished and served for several years in other cities. This can beachieved by taking account of five key factors, including thecapacity of drug courts to reduce recidivism, crime, enhancingcompliance to addiction treatment, restoring families, and costbenefit analysis of drug courts.

Someof the services (such as treatment for substance addiction) offeredto offenders in drug courts are not directly correlated with theroles of the criminal judicial system. However, these services haveindirect effects on the court processes as well the court outcome.Although it may be argued that the drug courts focus onextra-judicial roles, the successful treatment of drug offendersreduces recidivism and crime rate, which is part of the crimedeterrent function of the judicial system. In addition, the capacityof drug courts to enhance compliance with the treatment programs andre-unite families further reduces crimes, such as child abuse andrepeat substances abuse (Marlowe &amp Carey, 2012). Moreover, thesubstance addiction treatment programs offered by drug courtsstabilize offenders’ conditions, thus enhancing efficiency of courtproceedings compared to traditional court processes. In essence, theestablishment of a drug court in Atlanta promises an increase in theeffectiveness of the court processes and the outcome of theseprocesses. Based on the above facts, this paper recommends that thejudicial system should establish the drug court in the city ofAtlanta in order to address the underlying issue of substanceaddiction in the region.


Apartfrom issues related to functions of drug courts, financial analysisfurther justifies the existence of such a court in areas (includingAtlanta city) with a large number of drug offenders. This is because,the average cost of running the program for the single offender is $4,753 annually and leads to cost savings of about $ 5,593 peroffender every year (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004). Therefore,the establishment of a drug court in Atlanta will lead to costsavings.

Inoverall, a drug court will enhance the effectiveness of the judicialprocess and result in cost savings. This effectiveness will bemeasured and evaluated on the basis of five key factors. Regularmeasures of the decline in rates of drug-related crimes in the city,rates of recidivism among released offenders, rate of treatmentcompliance among eligible offenders, and the number of familiesreunited after the establishment of the drug court in Atlanta will beused to measure the effectiveness of the court programs. In addition,the judicial system will determine the cost of rendering justice perdrug offender in order to determine if the program leads to costsavings. All these measures will be determined on annual basis.


Theestablishment of drug courts is an effective intervention forsubstance abusing offenders, but its success requires the utilizationof key components and targeting appropriate population. Theeffectiveness of drug courts in the last three decades of theirexistence has been proven in numerous studies. The effectiveness ofdrug courts is shown by their capacity to reduce crime, recidivismreduction, enhance treatment compliance, reunion of families, andcost savings. These benefits associated with drug courts aresufficient to justify the establishment of a similar court in Atlantacity. However, the judicial system should measure the success of thecourt in meeting its pre-determined goals at least annually.Moreover, the successful implementation of the drug court programwill depend on the capacity of the judicial system to comply with thekey components. Focus on the problem solving courts (including thedrug courts) increases the significance of the perception that courtsdo not exist to punish offenders, but to correct them, enhance theirsafety as well as the safety of the entire society.


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