the latest research on problem-solving courts

Problem-solving courts research round-up – Spring 2018

Posted on 27 Apr in

The research round-up reviews the newest research around court and criminal innovation to help practitioners stay up to date with the latest evidence about what works and why. Our second edition explores two new pieces of research: a study of how gender and mental health influences people’s perceptions of procedural fairness in specialised court and a pair of studies which explore prosecutor-led diversion. Plus, our new in brief section highlights some of the other relevant research from the last three months.

The effectiveness of Australia’s drug courts

Ryan Kornhauser (2018) in Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology Vol. 51 (1)

Drug courts are, by some distance, the most widespread form of problem-solving court. Drug courts can be found in in at least 14 jurisdictions, including the UK’s Glasgow Drug Court. However, to date, the bulk of the evidence on the effectiveness of drug courts comes is limited to the US. This review of the evidence on Australia’s drug courts provides a useful addition to the international evidence base,

Australia’s first drug court opened in 1999 in New South Wales and today the majority of Australian states have at least one court. This article reviews 12 evaluations to draw an overall picture of their effectiveness. The authors note that there are some issues in the quality of the evaluations that it considers. Only one of the studies they reviewed was a randomised trial, generally considered the ‘gold standard’ of research design. Many of the other studies had issues which had the potential to overstate the effectiveness of the courts.

However, even when the flawed studies were excluded, the authors found that there is good evidence to conclude that drug courts were successful at reducing the proportion of offenders who reoffended and the number of crimes they committed. They conclude that the evidence, although positive, falls short of an ‘unequivocal endorsement’ due to the lack of strong studies. Nonetheless, this makes encouraging reading for UK drug court practitioners, especially given that the Australian criminal justice system, makes encouraging reading for practitioners currently working in Glasgow Drug court, and those looking to establish similar projects elsewhere in the UK

Prosecutor-Led Pretrial Diversion Case Studies in Eleven Jurisdictions

Melissa Labriola, Warren A. Reich, Robert C. Davis, Priscillia Hunt, Michael Rempel, and Samantha Cherney (2018)  Centre for Court Innovation Research Report

NIJ’s Multisite Evaluation of Prosecutor-Led Diversion Programs Strategies, Impacts, and Cost-Effectiveness

Michael Rempel, Melissa Labriola, Priscillia Hunt, Robert C. Davis, Warren A. Reich, and Samantha Cherney (2018)  Centre for Court Innovation Research Report

Diversion schemes, which divert offenders away from formal prosecution and into support services, have attracted significant attention in the UK recently. Whilst diversion for young people has long formed an important element of the work of Youth Offending Teams, adult diversion is relatively new. However, two recent pilots – Birmingham’s Operation Turning Point and Durham’s Checkpoint – have explored the potential of police-led diversion for adults. While we wait for the (long-promised) reports on the impact of these projects, it’s interesting to see the impact that diversion is having in the US.

These two papers look at a range of different examples of prosecutor-led, rather than police-led diversion. This is more similar to the deferred prosecution model which David Lammy endorsed in his recent review of race in the criminal justice system. The papers explore the rationale behind the approach, the way it has worked in practice and the impact that it has achieved. They find that:

    • The majority of the programmes offered diversion to people charged with more serious offences (felonies).
    • A significant minority of the programmes specialised in a particular type of crime – most commonly drug offences.
    • Potential clients were primarily screened based on their criminal histories rather than a risk score.
    • Almost all the programmes offered divertees targeted education programmes such as courses around the dangers of drink driving or drug use.
    • Two thirds of the programmes required divertees to perform community service and one third used restorative justice.

    Strikingly, they note that evidence suggests that these programmes are effective in reducing the likelihood of re-offending, with rates significantly down in four of the five sites which were studied. They also noted that all of the sites which conducted an economy analysis found that the programmes produced savings.

    Whilst the models described here have a number differences to UK schemes, supporters of diversion in Britain will be heartened by the strong evidence that diverting offenders away from prosecution can cut crime and save money for the tax payer.

    Gender and mental health: An examination of procedural justice in a specialized court context

    Logan J. Somers and Kristy Holtfreter (2018) in Behavioural Sciences & the Law

    Procedural fairness – ensuring that people feel fairly treated – is an important component of what makes problem-solving courts effective. However, while we know that there are a few simple things which courts can do to foster this experience of being fairly treated (referred to as procedural fairness or procedural justice) we have less insight into how this plays out for different groups of people. This paper draws on data from a study of 23 US drug courts (as well as a number of comparators) to explore how gender and mental health status influences offenders’ perception of procedural fairness in problem-solving courts.

    The study finds that in the drug courts studied:

    • Women have, on average, a higher perception of procedural fairness than men.
    • Being processed through the drug court increased perceptions of procedural fairness for both men and women.
    • People who suffered from depression had lower perceptions of procedural fairness.
    • Men whose addiction was particularly severe experienced higher levels of procedural fairness. However, this effect was not seen amongst women.

    Based on their findings the authors of the study reaffirmed that drug courts were an effective way to promote procedural fairness. They also noted that a generic drug court framework was suitable for both men and women, which they suggest undermines the case for gender-specific courts.

    In brief

    The role of family functioning in parenting practices of court-involved youth

    Marina Tolou-Shams, Leah Brogan Christianne Esposito-Smythers, Meredith G.Healy, Ashley Lowery, Lacey Craker, Larry K. Brown (2018)  in Journal of Adolescence Vol. 63

    This paper looks at how parenting impacts on the behaviour of young people who are in contact with the criminal justice system in the US. The authors note that effective parenting can mitigate risky behaviour but present findings which show that parental mental ill health inhibits that family functioning. They conclude that there is a case for including mental health support for parents in efforts to support young people in contact with the justice system.

    Stand-down and deliver: Pre-Sentence Reports, quality and the new culture of speed

    Gwen Robinson (2017) in Probation Journal Vol 4 (4)

    This articles provides a history of pre-sentence reports (PSRs) from their introduction in 1991 to today. It looks at how recent changes in both probation and the courts has impacted on the way that PSRs are created and used. The author concludes that there has been an over-emphasis on timeliness and that we need a broader conception of what defines good writing of a PSR.

    Legal systems abuse and coercive control

    Heather Douglas (2017) in Criminology and Criminal Justice Vol 18 (1)

    This Australian article looks at the phenomena of abusers using the legal system as an alternative mechanism of harassment through the testimony of survivors. Though the focus is on the civil courts, the author’s call for improved information sharing around domestic abuse cases resonates with proposals for a single court to handle both criminal and civil matters around domestic abuse cases.

    Extended-release naltrexone and drug treatment courts: Policy and evidence for implementing an evidence-based treatment

    Allison G.Robertson and Marvin S. Swartz (2018) in Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment Vol. 85

    This paper discusses extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX), an emerging treatment for opioid addiction. Patients receive a monthly injection of the drug which blocks opioid receptors in the brain, preventing the patient from achieving the desired high when taking the drug and reducing cravings. However, the drug is expensive, and evidence of its effectiveness is currently limited to only a few studies, and many practitioners remain sceptical of its benefits. This paper argues that the drug is well suited to use in drug courts, and call for this approach to be piloted.