RD369 - Virginia Adult Drug Treatment Court Cost Benefit Analysis - October 2012

Executive Summary:
To date, Virginia has formally implemented 16 adult drug treatment courts. In addition, there are eight planning courts that gained approval for implementation following the 2012 Virginia General Assembly as a result of changes to the 2012-2014 budget language and an additional adult drug court that was approved in October 2012 by the Virginia Drug Treatment Court Statewide Advisory Board. Data from 12 of Virginia’s adult drug treatment courts are included in this report. The 12 adult drug court sites included in this study are:

• Charlottesville/Albemarle Adult Drug Court
• Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Adult Drug Court
• Hampton Adult Drug Court
• Henrico Adult Drug Court
• Loudoun Adult Drug Court
• Newport News Adult Drug Court
• Norfolk Adult Drug Court
• Portsmouth Adult Drug Court
• Rappahannock Regional Adult Drug Court
• Roanoke Adult Drug Court
• Richmond Adult Drug Court
• Staunton Adult Drug Court

The other four operational adult drug treatment courts – Tazewell Adult Drug Court, Hopewell/Prince George Adult Drug Court, Bristol Adult Drug Court and Chesapeake Adult Drug Court – were excluded from the study due to limited available data.

The following report is the second produced as a result of the National Center for State Courts’ study of Virginia’s adult drug courts. The critical finding from the first report was that drug court participants in the sample were significantly less likely to recidivate than the carefully matched “business-as-usual” comparison group and that this reduction in recidivism was a robust and sustained effect. In this, the second report, the following research questions were answered:

Key Question 1: What defendant characteristics and program characteristics are associated with the graduation rates and recidivism rates of drug court participants?

Key Question 2: Controlling for differences in demographics and criminal history, do drug court participants demonstrate better recidivism outcomes than defendants processed through the traditional criminal justice system?

Key Question 3: How much does an adult drug court in Virginia cost per participant?

Key Question 4: What is the impact on the criminal justice system of processing defendants through a drug court compared to traditional case processing?

Key Question 1

The results of the multilevel analysis of the determinates of graduation indicate that participants with no prior felonies who participate in drug court programs that provide them with written sanctioning guidelines have a significantly higher probability of graduation than similar participants from programs that do not supply such guidelines. There was no effect for participants with prior felony convictions.

The multilevel analysis of the determinates of in-program recidivism (i.e., offenses committed while the participant was under the jurisdiction of their drug court) indicates that participants who participate in drug court programs that utilize Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) (*1) have a significantly lower probability of in-program recidivism than similar participants from programs that do not use this treatment approach.

Key Question 2

The results of a multivariate survival analysis of the probability of recidivism over time and a multilevel logistic regression of the overall probability of recidivism allow us to conclude, with a high degree of confidence, that drug courts are more effective than the “business-as-usual” alternative at reducing the overall probability of recidivism. An analysis of the frequency of re-offending for drug court participants emphasized the importance of successful completion of drug court (graduation) in reducing the frequency of post-exit recidivism. Results from these analyses also suggest that drug court programs that incorporate MRT are more effective at reducing the incidence and frequency of post-exit recidivism than drug court programs that do not.

Key Question 3

The Transactional and Institutional Cost Analysis (TICA) approach was used to determine the cost of Virginia drug courts. The cost model designed to determine the average cost of a drug court in Virginia includes six basic transactions:

• Screening and assessment for drug court placement;
• Drug court staffing and court sessions;
• Treatment;
• Drug testing;
• Drug court supervision: and
• Drug court fees collected.

The MRT workbook is structured around 16 objectively defined steps (units) focusing on seven basic treatment issues: confrontation of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors; assessment of current relationships; reinforcement of positive behavior and habits; positive identity formation; enhancement of self-concept; decrease in hedonism and development of frustration tolerance; and development of higher stages of moral reasoning. Participants meet in groups, typically once a week, and can complete all steps of the MRT program in a minimum of 3 to 6 months. MRT facilitators must complete 32 hours of professional training and become certified to facilitate MRT.

Table 1 shows that the average cost of a drug court participant to Virginia taxpayers is slightly less than $18,000. Table 1 also provides a breakdown of costs by type of transaction, making it clear that the bulk of drug court costs (76%) result from treatment transactions.

Key Question 4

Again using the TICA approach, the costs and benefits of drug court participation were calculated and compared to the costs of processing a case through the traditional “business as usual” approach.

Cost and benefit domains investigated include:

• Placement costs, including all costs of involvement in the criminal justice system from arrest to either drug court entry or sentencing for the comparison group. This is the first cost/benefit analysis of drug courts to include these costs.
• Drug court costs (which were determined in Question 1).
• Outcome costs, including all costs of involvement in the criminal justice system for a new offense beginning from either drug court entry (less the actual cost of drug court) or sentencing for the placement arrest event for the comparison group.
• Victimization costs resulting from recidivism for both property offenses and violent offenses.

Table 2 details the costs and benefits of the drug court participant group versus the “business-as-usual” group with regards to these domains. It shows that, on average, Virginia’s Drug Courts save $19,234 per person as compared to traditional case processing. In FY2011, there were 937 drug court participants served in Virginia’s adult drug courts. This means that during program participation, those 937 participants saved taxpayers $18,022,258 compared to the cost of “business-as-usual” processing for this same group of offenders. As depicted in Table 2, the drug court group saves money in each of the transactional cost categories. The greatest cost savings are in outcome costs. This is based on the lower recidivism rates of drug court participants versus comparison group persons and the associated savings in the cost of incarceration.

Overall Conclusions

The 12 Virginia drug courts investigated have a robust and sustained impact on the recidivism of participants over and above that of the “business-as-usual” alternatives. Further, the lower recidivism rate of drug court participants relative to “business-as-usual” processing leads to lower outcome and victimization costs for the drug court group relative to the comparison group. These lower outcome and victimization costs, along with lower placement costs, result in average savings of almost $20,000 per drug court participant, relative to the costs of “business-as-usual” processing. Consequently, the 12 drug courts are cost-effective.
(*1) Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) is a cognitive behavioral intervention designed to address criminal thinking. MRT is taught in a group format using structured group exercises and prescribed homework assignments.