Research demonstrates the effectiveness of drug courts, which have been linked to a reduction of recidivism rates among participants. A meta-analytic review of 154 drug courts, including 92 adult drug courts, conducted by Mitchell, Wilson, Eggers, & Mackenzie found that the majority of adult drug court participants had lower rates of recidivism compared to non-participants.  Drug court participants had a recidivism rate of 38 percent compared to 50 percent for non-participants. A more recent study found significantly lower rates of recidivism for drug court graduates: 21 percent compared to 60 percent for those who were terminated from a drug court program. 
Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI) awards funds to counties to divert adult non-violent individuals from state prisons by developing and implementing evidence-based supervision programs which are linked to treatment and supportive services in their communities. ARI is a performance incentive funding program whereby continued funding is based on meeting performance measures including a reduction in the number of prison admissions from a defined eligible target population. A monetary penalty may be assessed by the ARI Oversight Board when a program fails to meet its target reduction.
This report presents an implementation evaluation of the ARI-funded Winnebago County Drug Court (WCDC) using qualitative and quantitative approaches. It covers the initial pilot phase of the program, which ran from October 1, 2011 to December 31, 2012. Data collection included four components: (1) interviews with staff and stakeholders, (2) interviews with probationers, (3) analysis of program administrative data, and (4) criminal history record information.
Based on program administrative data, WCDC probationers were mostly white, single males who were on average 32 years old and had some high school education. Most were unemployed and living with a family member. Almost half were heroin-dependent. Over half the probationers were assessed as exhibiting a high risk for recidivism, and over one-third exhibited a moderate risk.
During the pilot phase, WCDC staff enrolled 128 probationers, 122 were successfully diverted from prison, and six were re-sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). WCDC exceeded its required 25-percent reduction in prison admissions of 37 individuals by 329 percent. Most of the probationers continued in the program after 18 months.
In interviews, probationers identified their service needs as housing, educational resources, job referrals, transportation, identification, financial assistance, and medical assistance. All probationers reported that they received transportation resources. Most received educational and job training resources, about half received assistance with identification, and about one fourth received housing and financial assistance. None received medical assistance, although a fifth of those interviewed requested it. The top three needs: housing, education, and job referrals, were resolved at different levels.
TOP THREE SERVICES NEEDED AND RECEIVED BY WCDC PROBATIONERS
ARI program staff funded the WCDC staff to continue implementation of its enhanced drug court program to divert probationers impacted by substance use disorders from the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), saving state tax dollars in the process. According to evidence-based practices, WCDC included individualized case planning which involved the probationer, judge, prosecutor, public defender, probation officers, and service providers. WCDC staff utilized risk/need/responsivity principles with their moderate- to high-risk probationers. This report revealed evidence that the WCDC program implemented the key components for an effective drug court, identified and assessed appropriate probationers, linked them to substance abuse treatment and social services, monitored their behavior, and provided reinforcement using incentives and sanctions, when needed.
Implications for Policy and Practice
This report focused upon the initial 14-month implementation of a drug court program. This implementation evaluation can be informative for other jurisdictions that are considering developing a drug court alternative for probationers with substance use disorders cycling through their criminal justice system. Consider the following recommendations.
Increase Housing Referrals
Most of the probationers in the evaluation (69 percent) reported living with friends and family, and most reported being unemployed (78 percent). These individuals may be part of the “hidden homeless,” who suffer from insecure housing and the lack of resources to obtain their own. A small number (15 percent of the total) reported living in homeless shelters at the time of intake. Drug court staff and stakeholders may consider securing or expanding collaborations with the Winnebago County Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide housing services.
Continue Educational Services
Most probationers (86 percent) reported receiving assistance with school. More than half (62 percent) of drug court probationers had less than a high school education upon entering the program. In interviews, 37 percent of interviewees said they needed assistance earning their GED or enrolling in school. Drug court staff should continue to provide this assistance since educational attainment is closely linked to employment and reductions in recidivism rates.
Increase Job Referrals and Employment Support
In the probationer interviews, 37 percent of interviewees reported needing help with job referrals; of those, over half received help. Most of the probationers in drug court (78 percent) were unemployed at intake. In focus groups with Kentucky Drug Court probationers, they asked for assistance in finding potential employers who had positive experiences hiring probationers and would take court schedules into account when considering working hours.  The drug court staff should consider increasing job referrals for probationers and perhaps connecting with an agency that identifies employers willing to hire probationers. According to one study, if justice-involved individuals had attended drug treatment in lieu of prison, employers were more likely to consider them for hire. 
Refer to Health-Related Services
Almost one quarter of the probationers interviewed needed medical assistance, but none received it. The medical consequences of drug abuse can be quite severe and debilitating. Heroin-abusing drug court probationers (who comprised 45 percent of total WCDC probationers) face particular health crises, including hepatitis, tuberculosis, renal failure, tetanus, and HIV infection.  With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) making medical care accessible to more Americans at little or no cost,  probation officers should refer probationers to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services website or a Department of Human Services case manager to assist in their enrollment in a health insurance plan.
Implement Program with Fidelity
For jurisdictions that are considering using a drug court for drug-involved, recidivating probationers, it would be important to identify probationers with the appropriate risk and need levels, and engage them in programming that is responsive to these levels. Also, to ensure program effectiveness, incorporate the key components of a drug court and maintain fidelity to this model. Last, productive probationer-program staff relationships would keep them engaged and motivated to participate in and successfully complete the program.
Enhance Research and Evaluation
Future research should more closely examine drug testing data. Also, research could explore and validate predictions of successful and unsuccessful program exits. Such information may help improve knowledge about which probationers complete the program compared with those who do not. In addition, future research could describe how program phases are experienced by drug court participants, and how this is related to treatment completion and overall program outcomes.
- Mitchell, O., Wilson, D., Eggers, A., & MacKenzie, D. (2012). Drug courts’ effects on criminal offending for juveniles and adults. Oslo, Norway: The Campbell Collaboration. ↩︎
- Lutz, F. E. & VanWormer, J. (2014). The reality of practicing the ten key components in adult drug court. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 53, 351-383. ↩︎
- Vacha, E. F., & Marin, M. V. (1993). Doubling up: Low income households sheltering the hidden homeless. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 20, 25-31. ↩︎
- Staton, M., Mateyoke, A., Leukefeld, C., Cole, J., Hopper, H., Logan, T.K., and Minton, L. (2001). Employment issues among drug court participants. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 33(4),73-85. ↩︎
- Pager, D. (2007). Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ↩︎
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Medical consequences of drug abuse. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/medical-consequences-drug-abuse. ↩︎
- Shartzer, A., Long, S. K., & Anderson, N. (2016). Access to care and affordability have improved following Affordable Care Act implementation; problems remain. Health Affairs, 35, 161-168. ↩︎
This evaluation was supported by Grant #2010-DJ-BX-0015, #2009-SU-B9-005, #2009-DJ-BX-0023, and #2008-DJ-BX-0034, which were awarded to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority or the U.S. Department of Justice.