Despite federal investments of more than $1 billion into juvenile drug courts over the past decade and an explosion in the number of courts to nearly 300 in 2003, little rigorous research has been done on their effectiveness, says Youth Today. In a new Urban Institute report, Juvenile Drug Courts and Teen Substance Abuse, researchers Jeffrey A. Butts and John Roman examine the history, mission, operations, and evaluation of juvenile drug courts. Both adult and juvenile drug courts combine treatment with close supervision and the leverage of judicial authority to change users’ behavior.
Juvenile drug courts have evolved with widely varying characteristics, largely through uncontrolled innovations. “No one encourages them to think theoretically,” Butts says. “They careen back and forth between ideas.” Many evaluations say “something like '90 percent of program graduates were arrest-free 12 months later.' Of course they are, because you've taken all of the likely recidivists out of the equation,” says Butts. The authors suggest a framework to research the important ingredients of programs, encourage testing of viable hypotheses, and suggest useful measurement approaches and data collection techniques.