Can Drug Courts Improve Public Safety? Exploring the Impacts of Drug Court on Crime

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Drug courts represent one of the largest and most widespread criminal justice programs specifically developed to provide treatment and intensive supervision to drug-involved offenders. Most of the literature about the effects of drug court programs involves individual-level analyses of recidivism or drug use for program participants. Very little is known about the broader community-wide impact of drug courts on public safety measures. The current research uses a subset of 63 drug court jurisdictions (cities and counties) drawn from a systematic review of drug court programs to assess the impact of program implementation on crime and arrest rates. A fixed-effects analysis was used to assess whether drug court implementation was associated with significant changes in specific types of violent and property crime rates. Changes in arrest rates for violent, property and drug crimes were also examined, and differential effects were explored based on effectiveness of the drug court in reducing participant recidivism and jurisdictional population size. Results indicate that drug courts are associated with decreases in overall crime rates, with marked decreases in burglary, property, and robbery rates. Drug court implementation was associated with increases in drug arrests and decreases in homicide arrests. Small jurisdictions with average populations of less than 100,000 people were found to have a different pattern of results when measuring both crime and arrest rates. These results are discussed within the context of understanding the broader policy impacts of drug court implementation.