• Treatment Effectiveness. Because all drug courts refer clients to treatment and monitor their progress, they do a better job of linking the criminal justice and drug treatment systems than older forms of community supervision, such as traditional probation or intensive probation supervision programs. However, this can be considered a desirable feature only if they link them to effective forms of treatment.
Many drug courts refer clients to self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997). Of these three 12-step programs, only Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been subjected to a fair amount of evaluation (Landry, 1997). The research on AA suggests that it could be effective; however, efforts to evaluate it are typically stymied by self-selection biases. In short, it is simply not clear whether those involved in A A improve because of their participation in the program or whether they participate in A A because they are already committed to making improvements. The same potential for self-selection bias also limits the capacity to determine the effectiveness of the less-evaluated 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous.
Drug courts also refer a large number of clients to outpatient drug-free programs (Belenko, 1998). However, the term “outpatient drug-free” refers to a miscellany of programs that vary in terms of the services they offer and may include individual or group counseling, addiction or AIDS education, acupuncture, and/or training in social skills (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997; Belenko, 1998). This makes it very difficult to determine if the treatment component of drug courts has any lasting and positive effect on outcomes, since it is often unclear which services are offered by different outpatient drug-free programs.
Not only is it unclear which services ensure positive post-program outcomes, but it is also unclear whether retention in drug courts is a predictor of post-program successes. In part, this is because it has been difficult to define retention rates in drug courts (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997; Belenko, 1998). Estimates suggest that, on average, 43 percent of drug court participants are retained in treatment (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997). This figure is quite high for treatment programs—especially outpatient drug-free programs, which generally have high dropout rates (see Belenko, 1998). Yet it is not entirely clear whether longer retention translates into more positive outcomes.
Retention certainly has had a close association with positive posttreatment outcomes in earlier literature on voluntary treatment programs that are disengaged from the criminal justice system. But with system-based programs that link treatment and punishment, the meaning of retention may change. It is simply not known whether legal sanctions ad-