Empirical evidence has suggested that drug treatment courts (DTCs) reduce re-arrest rates. However, DTC program completion rates are low and little is known about the effectiveness of lower levels of program participation.
We examined how DTC program referral, enrollment without completion, and completion, affected re-arrest rates during a two-year follow-up.
We used statewide North Carolina data from criminal courts merged with DTC data. Propensity score matching was used to select comparison groups based on demographic characteristics, criminal histories, and drug of choice (when available). Average treatment effects on the treated were computed.
DTC participation levels included referral without enrollment, (n = 2,174), enrollment without completion (n = 954), and completion (n = 747). Recidivism measured as re-arrest on a substance-related charge, on a violent offense charge not involving an allegation of substance abuse, and on any charge (excluding infractions) was examined by felony and misdemeanor status during a two-year follow-up period.
Re-arrest rates were high, 53-76 percent. In general, re-arrest rates were similar for individuals who were referred but who did not enroll and a matched comparison group consisting of individuals who were not referred. In contrast, enrollees who did not complete had lower re-arrest rates than a matched group of individuals who were referred but did not enroll, for arrests on any charge, on any felony charge, and on substance-related charges (felonies and misdemeanors). Finally, relative to persons who enrolled but did not complete, those who completed had lower re-arrest rates on any charge, any felony charge, any misdemeanor charge, any substance-related charge, any substance-related misdemeanor or felony charge, and any violent felony charge.
Enrolling in a DTC, even without completing, reduced re-arrest rates. Given the generally low DTC completion rate, this finding implies that only examining effects of completion underestimates the benefits of DTC programs.