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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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Drug court

Juvenile Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2023.  Literature review updated July 2019.
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In the criminal justice system, problem-solving courts incorporate a therapeutic ideology to address a specific problem outside the traditional adversarial court. Drug courts are problem-solving courts for youth whose substance-abuse issues underlie criminal behavior. Youth typically enter into a contract with the drug court and agree to comply with treatment and supervision requirements. While each drug court is unique in its operations and eligibility criteria, these courts share similar programmatic characteristics. Drug courts typically involve a team of stakeholders (e.g., youth, guardian, judge, treatment provider, case manager, and probation officer). Components of the drug court model may include drug treatment; judicial monitoring; random drug testing; incentives, rewards, and sanctions; and progressive stages (e.g., less monitoring with compliance). Drug courts can be pre- or post-adjudication models and the length of the program may vary from 6 to 18 months.

In this analysis, drug court youth were diverted from the traditional court and instead were adjudicated in drug court. Youth in the comparison group were adjudicated in traditional juvenile court and received probation and treatment as usual services. Participants spent an average of seven months in drug court with a range of 6 to 16 months. Although risk level was not reported in the majority of studies, nearly all studies report that youth had some degree of prior involvement with the justice system. Among included studies that report demographics, 31% of participants were youth of color and 25% were female.

Key Terms

Court-involved youth: Youth who are processed through the juvenile justice system but who are not ordered to a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility. This includes populations of arrested youth, diverted youth, charged youth, adjudicated youth, and youth on probation or formal supervision.

Youth in state institutions: Youth who are confined in a residential or correctional facility when they participate in the program.

Youth post-release: Youth who are returning to the community following a period of confinement in a residential or correctional facility and who participate in the program after release to the community.

For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2022). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $817 Benefits minus costs $3,086
Participants $180 Benefit to cost ratio $53.55
Others $1,813 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $335 benefits greater than the costs 65%
Total benefits $3,144
Net program cost ($59)
Benefits minus cost $3,086

^WSIPP’s benefit-cost model does not monetize this outcome.

^^WSIPP does not include this outcome when conducting benefit-cost analysis for this program.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
16 14 2784 -0.036 0.082 17 -0.036 0.082 25 -0.036 0.662
16 1 31 -0.079 0.250 16 n/a n/a n/a -0.079 0.751
16 1 31 -0.144 0.250 16 n/a n/a n/a -0.144 0.564
16 1 31 -0.015 0.250 16 n/a n/a n/a -0.015 0.951
16 3 759 0.061 0.334 17 n/a n/a n/a 0.061 0.856
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime Criminal justice system $748 $0 $1,706 $374 $2,827
Labor market earnings associated with high school graduation $89 $210 $116 $0 $415
Costs of higher education ($20) ($30) ($9) ($10) ($69)
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 ($29) ($29)
Totals $817 $180 $1,813 $335 $3,144
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $6,611 2004 Present value of net program costs (in 2022 dollars) ($59)
Comparison costs $6,571 2004 Cost range (+ or -) 20%
The per-participant costs are from Anspach, D.F., Ferguson, A.S., & Phillips, L.L. (2003). Evaluation of Maine's statewide juvenile drug treatment court program. Augusta, ME: University of Southern Maine. We calculated the cost of drug court compared to traditional adjudication using operating costs, treatment costs, detention costs, and new probationary costs from Table 24 (expected capacity). This annualized per-participant cost estimate was prorated to 7 months of service, the average length of stay in drug court for the studies included in the meta-analysis.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in discounted dollars. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Byrnes, E.C., & Hickert, A.O. (2004). Process and outcome evaluation of the third district juvenile drug court in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Annapolis, MD: Glacier Consulting.

Carey, S.M. (2004). Clackamas County Juvenile Drug Court outcome evaluation: Final report. Portland, OR: NPC Research.

Cook, M.D., Watson, L., & Stageberg, P. (2009). Statewide process and comparative outcomes study of 2003 Iowa adult and juvenile drug courts. Des Moines, IA: Iowa Department of Human Rights.

Crumpton, D., Carey, S.m., Mackin, J.R., Finigan, M.W., Pukstas, K., Weller, J.M., Linhares, R., & Brekhus, J. (2006). Harford County juvenile drug court performance evaluation: Program, process, outcome and cost analysis. Portland, OR: NPC Research.

Henggeler, S.W., Halliday-Boykins, C.A., Cunningham, P.B., Randall, J., Shapiro, S.B, & Chapman, J.E. (2006). Juvenile drug court: Enhancing outcomes by integrating evidence-based treatments. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(1), 42-54.

Hickert, A.O., Becker, E., Próspero, M., & Moleni, K. (2011). Impact of juvenile drug courts on drug use and criminal behavior. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 1(1), 60-77.

Kralstein, D. (2008) Evaluation of the Suffolk County Juvenile Treatment Court: Process and impact findings. New York NY: Center for Court Innovation.

Latessa, E.J., Shaffer, D.K., & Lowenkamp C. (2002). Outcome evaluation of Ohio’s drug court efforts: Final report. Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati, Center for Criminal Justice Research, Division of Criminal Justice.

LeGrice, L.N. (2004). Effectiveness of juvenile drug court on reducing delinquency. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(12), 4626A.

O'Connell, J.P., Nestlerode, E., & Miller, M.L. (1999). Evaluation of the Delaware juvenile drug court diversion program. Dover: State of Delaware Executive Department, Statistical Analysis Center.

Organizational Research Services (ORS). (2007). King County Juvenile Drug Court Program: Program evaluation. Seattle, WA: Organizational Research Services.

Parsons, B.V., Byrnes, E.C. (n.d.). Byrne evaluation partnership program: Final report. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, Social Research Institute.

Picard-Fritsche, S., & Kralstein, D. (2012). The Nassau juvenile treatment court: Program outcomes and impact evaluation. New York, NY: Center for Court Innovation.

Sullivan, C.J., Blair, L., Latessa, E., & Sullivan, C.C. (2014). Juvenile drug courts and recidivism: Results from a multisite outcome study. Justice Quarterly, online publication doi: 10.1080/07418825.2014.908937.