Drug courts, or Drug Treatment Courts, while often politically popular, have shown generally limited and problematic outcomes in various national case studies according to a new book from the International Drug Policy Unit (IDPU) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Rethinking Drug Courts: International Experiences of a US Policy Export, released today (15 February), reviews the use and efficacy of drug courts in a number of countries worldwide including the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil.
The authors find that, on the whole, the courts are not as effective as is often suggested and rarely address the underlying social issues impacting drug involved offenders or the services needed to improve client outcomes. The authors also question the suitability of locating state responses to a health issue within the criminal justice system.
In the US for example, where the courts originated, the authors find they have had no measurable impact on levels of incarceration, are exceptionally costly to run and exclude a broad section of drug-involved individuals from eligibility.
In the UK and Ireland, despite strong political support, the authors find the courts have been ultimately unsuccessful. They suggest this is partially due to the transplantation of the US model on a very different institutional, social and cultural situation in the UK and Ireland. The authors point to the frequent refrain of adapting the drug court model to local circumstances and infrastructure, but find little evidence of this occurring or actually mitigating the institutional barriers to their development.
One country where drugs courts have been relatively more successful is Australia where they are used as part of a wider response to drug related offending and are usually only used as a last resort in a long line of potential diversionary responses.
While the authors recognise drug courts can work in certain circumstances, they warn against them being seen as a ‘silver bullet’ and recommend a broader focus on a variety of systemic approaches to diverting drug involved individuals away from the criminal justice system.
Commenting, Dr John Collins, Executive Director of the IDPU at LSE and co-editor and co-author of Rethinking Drug Courts: International Experiences of a US Policy Export said: “This book is intended for countries examining the adoption and expansion of the drug court model. It challenges policy audiences to think critically about the adaptability of the model to differing international contexts as well as the policy goals around establishing drug courts and whether these interventions represent the optimal use of resources based on experiences elsewhere.
“In particular, this book suggests that key issues of availability of wrap around services and the suitability of locating what is fundamentally a health issue within the criminal justice system should give pause to the often “well meaning” and enthusiastic drive to adopt the courts in some countries. This is only magnified in jurisdictions where scarce resources may be better directed towards public health interventions and legislation targeted at diverting drug involved individuals away from the criminal justice system.”