ORIGIN: Peer-Reviewed Systematic Review
Illicit drug use is a well-recognized public health problem. Overdose and other less acute harms are associated with the non-medical use of controlled substances. The policy response to illicit drug use in the United States has historically focused on a punitive model. Resulting high rates of incarceration have placed large numbers of non-violent offenders into correctional facilities. Life in prison exposes inmates to numerous health risks. High incarceration rates also strain families and communities particularly in areas already suffering from harms associated with low socioeconomic status. As a result, both illicit drug use and the prevailing policy response aimed at reducing it are sources of harm to population health. Reducing incarceration for non-violent crime – the majority of which involves use and trafficking of small amounts of illicit drugs – is widely recognized as an important policy objective. Congressional Research Service, GAO: Drug Courts.
In response to growing evidence of the public health burden of over-criminalization and the failure of the traditional punitive approach to stem illicit drug activity, in the late 1980s, states and localities started experimenting with models aimed more at rehabilitation than retribution. Representing one form of what is often referred to as therapeutic justice, drugs courts emerged as a new model for dealing with minor drug-related crimes. These specialized courts aim to divert convicted drug-offenders into treatment rather than incarceration. Between 1989 and 2009, well over 2000 drugs courts were created in the United States. U.S. Department of Justice. Many drug courts are created though judicial rulemaking. Examples of laws creating drug courts can be found in Mississippi (M.S. Code § 9-23 et seq) and Illinois (730 ILCS 166.1 et seq).
Wilson, et al., systematically reviewed studies assessing the effect of drug courts on recidivism. David B. Wilson, Ojmarrh Mitchell, And Doris L. Mackenzie, A systematic review of drug court effects on recidivism, Journal of Experimental Criminology (2006) 2:459Y487. The reviewers identified fifty studies that fit their inclusion criteria. Using meta-analytic techniques, the reviewers combined odds-ratios across the studies in a random effects model. The overall summary odds ratio – which was statistically significant – was 1.62. The reviewers’ interpretation of the results from the summary statistic and other correlates in the regression was that recidivism decreased by 26% for offenders in drug courts versus comparison groups. However, methodological weaknesses in the majority of the included studies were noted as a source of caution against this figure. A more conservative estimate of the effect was found when they limited their review to more methodologically sophisticated studies. Overall, however, the authors view the evidence as sufficient to support the effectiveness of drug courts in reducing recidivism.
Drug overdose deaths have surpassed traffic fatalities in Washington State and 15 other states. This study will examine the legal intent, implementation and outcomes of a new Washington state law to support intervening in drug overdoses. The law includes a Good Samaritan component that provides legal immunity from drug possession charges for people who overdose or seek aid for another person’s overdose. It also allows the prescribing of an opioid antidote medicine (Naloxone) to drug users and their partners. Evaluation will be conducted on the development of the legislation and the impact of the law on Seattle area heroin users, bystanders, and police during overdoses as well as the impacts on community health outcomes.
Grant Number: 68396
Funding Date: Mon, 11/15/2010
Researching Institution: University of Washington
Researcher: Caleb Banta-Green, Ph.D. M.P.H. M.S.W.; Patrica Kuszler, M.D., J.D.