Is your drug court serving all the people it should?

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New drug court tool has the potential to impact the field

Drug courts often provide an effective alternative to incarceration, but data suggests that racial and gender disparities impact who gets referred to them, so NCSC researchers have created a tool to help drug court staffers keep track of who gets referred to these courts and who is more likely to get the most out of the programs.

“I think a lot of drug courts that decide to use this tool will be shocked when they sit down and look at their data,” said Fred Cheesman, a principal court research consultant who led a team of researchers that developed and tested the tool. “Is it going to impact the field? That remains to be seen because we don’t know who’s going to use it, but it certainly has that potential.”

Research shows that Blacks and Hispanics/Latinxs are overrepresented among drug arrests relative to the general population, but these same groups are underrepresented among drug-court participants.

The team started work on the tool – a spreadsheet with an algorithm – in February 2018, examining data in 10 courts that collect referral data, which is an uncommon practice. Race and gender are the two most important demographic characteristics examined by the team, Cheesman said, and in those 10 courts, the researchers found that whites are generally more likely to be given opportunities to use drug courts, and males are more likely to successfully complete drug court programs.

“If Black people are underrepresented in your drug court compared to their representation in local drug arrests, there may be, for example, a systemic failure to refer defendants from this group to drug court. This failure can be due to bias or problematic policies governing referral practices,” said Cheesman, who works with a team of NCSC researchers. NCSC is not revealing the names of the 10 courts to protect their privacy.

The tool was designed to accommodate as many as 350 people per court, making it the right size for small and mid-sized courts. Large courts, Cheesman said, can compile their own data and use the theory behind the tool to reach conclusions about whether their drug courts are proportionately serving residents of their cities and counties.

The tool, known as the Equity and Inclusion Assessment Tool, was developed in partnership with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, with funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Cheesman said the theory behind the tool can be used in other problem-solving courts.

“The real power of this tool,” he said, “is monitoring trends over time.”

The tool is new, but it has already received positive reviews.

“I have really enjoyed working with the Equity & Inclusion Assessment Toolkit,” said Kristen DeVallco-director of the National Drug Court Resource Center, “and I believe this is going to be incredibly helpful to  several programs I evaluate.”

ICM offering Court Technology Certificate for court leaders

NCSC's Institute for Court Management is now offering its Court Technology Certificate, which is designed for court leaders at all levels who want to “fill in the gaps” in their previous technology and project management professional development.

Through focus on four key areas – Courts Disrupted, Considerations in Designing Technology, Cybersecurity and Achieving Project Oversight Success – participants will consider various ways to approach technology and project-related challenges in their roles. The cost of each session is $100. Register here.