California Drug Courts: A Methodology for Determining Costs and Avoided Costs

In 1998 the AOC received a Drug Courts Program Office (DCPO) grant from the federal Department of Justice to establish a method for evaluating adult drug court programs in California. This study focuses on the economic evaluation of collaborative justice courts. The evaluation is divided into three phases. In phase I the AOC is evaluating three adult drug courts, one each in Butte, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties. In phase II, the AOC will evaluate an additional six courts and will test the model developed in the first phase. A third and final phase, expected to begin in early 2004, will establish a protocol for continuous court-level evaluation of these programs.

The evaluation looks at publicly funded costs as “opportunity cost” resources. A systematic opportunity cost approach estimates resources that might be available for use in other contexts. For example, if substance abuse treatment reduces the number of times a client is subsequently incarcerated, the local sheriff may see no budget change but will have an opportunity cost resource in the form of an available jail bed. Drug courts and other collaborative justice courts are reported to provide such opportunity cost resources.

Drug court and other collaborative justice court programs also use what are known as “borrowed” or “donated” resources. Staff in the courts and other participants in the collaborative justice team, such as the prosecutor, defense counsel, probation, and treatment participants, “donate” time and the courts “donate” resources, or shift them from other projects to the operation of collaborative justice programs. These resources and the efficiencies in case management that they may produce are considered in the cost-benefit study protocols.

This study is designed to assist courts in determining which practices work best for which groups and yield the most results per dollar of investment. The study will thus enable courts to fine-tune their programs for maximum success with minimum dollar inputs.

Drug Courts Reduce Crime, Costs (PDF)

A new statewide study shows that drug courts provide substantial savings to the criminal justice system by reducing prison and jail costs, victimization costs, and recidivism. First established in California in 1993, drug courts use a collaborative approach to justice and provide an alternative to incarceration for substance abusers.

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