Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Inside the Black Box: A Qualitative Evaluation of Participants' Experiences of a Drug Treatment Court

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Inside the Black Box: A Qualitative Evaluation of Participants' Experiences of a Drug Treatment Court

Article excerpt

Since the first Drug Treatment Court (DTC) was introduced in Florida in 1989, "problem solving courts" have been put into operation across the United States. As of June 2014, there are more than 3,400 drug court operations (National Institute of Justice, 2015). These courts seek to address the root causes of criminal behavior by breaking the cycle of addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system (Brown, 2010; Harrison & Scarpitti, 2002; Patra et al., 2010). The implementation of DTCs has led to a plethora of evaluation studies, which generally claim that they are an effective tool to reduce recidivism and costs to the criminal justice system (e.g., Aos, Miller, & Draker, 2006; Bouffard & Richardson, 2007; Gottfredson, Najaka, & Kearley, 2003; Peters & Murrin, 2000; Turner et al., 2002). However, some criticize these studies for being too limited in their scope (Belenko, 2001; Gottfredson, Kearley, Najaka, & Rocha, 2007; Sanford & Arrigo, 2005) and there have only been a few qualitative studies exploring participants' experience in these programs. The purpose of this study was to address this gap in the literature. Specifically, the researchers, who are assistant professors with specializations in community corrections, were contacted by a local DTC and asked to conduct a process evaluation of its 2.5 year-old program. The researchers conducted a traditional process evaluation of the court, which entailed interviewing program personnel (e.g., judge, program director, case manager, treatment specialist, probation officer (PO), and public defender) and two participants as well as observing team meetings and court sessions. The findings indicate that the court is largely adhering to the 10 Key Components, which were created in 2004 to guide future DTC evaluations (The National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 2004). The interviews with the participants inspired the researchers to delve more into the clients' perspectives beyond the functionality and formal requirements of the court. Consequently, after completing the process evaluation, the researchers obtained Institutional Review Board approval from their university. They then arranged to conduct independent in-depth interviews with the court's participants to examine their experiences in more detail and identify what participants believe has helped and hindered them the most in their recovery process.

The DTC included in this study is situated in a county in Pennsylvania with a population size of less than 400,000. As stipulated by the court, to be eligible to participate in the program, offenders must have a long criminal history and a substance abuse addiction/dependency, which contributed to their criminal offending. Ineligible offenses include violent and sex offenses; however, this exclusionary rule can be waived if the victim consents to the offender's participation and/or there are mitigating circumstances surrounding the criminal act. Qualifying offenders plead guilty to their charges and agree to DTC as their disposition.

To assist participants to gain control of their lives and stop the cycle of recidivism, caused by their addiction, this program provides intensive treatment, case management, offender accountability, and intensive court supervision. Specifically, the DTC has structured its program into four distinct phases. The four phases vary in their intensity level (e.g., treatment, drug treatment court sessions, community service, number of drug tests, how often defendants meet with their PO, etc.) with phase 1 being the most and phase 4 being the least intensive. For instance, some of the phase 1 requirements are to attend drug and alcohol treatment daily, develop a service plan, set a payment schedule for program fees, attend drug treatment court hearings weekly, report to the PO three times a week, and either be employed full-time or participate in community service. In contrast, phase 4 includes some of the following requirements: attend drug and alcohol treatment 2-3 times a week, attend drug treatment court sessions every two weeks, report to PO 1-2 times a week, and be fully employed. …

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