This article details results from a multisite experimental evaluation showing the impact of juvenile drug treatment courts on substance use, mental health, and recidivism.
Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts (JDTC) emerged in the mid-1990s as a potential solution to concern about substance use among youth in the juvenile justice system (JJS). Despite substantial research, findings on the JDTC effectiveness for reducing recidivism and substance use remain inconsistent, hampered by methodological problems. In 2016, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published research-based JDTC Guidelines for best practices, and funded technical assistance for implementation and a multisite national outcomes study among JDTCs implementing the Guidelines. Ten sites were originally selected for this study, with a JDTC and Traditional Juvenile Court (TJC) participating. In two sites, moderate- to high-risk youth were randomized to JDTC or TJC, and in eight sites, a regression discontinuity design assigned moderate- to high-risk youth to JDTC, and other youth to TJC. Findings from four sites with sufficient cases and follow-up rates indicated that JDTCs reduced cannabis use, increased access to mental health services, and reduced recidivism; however, the effects were small to moderate, with positive impacts mainly observed among high-risk youth. The impacts of JDTCs may have been attenuated because Guidelines implementation was inconsistent across courts, and some TJCs implemented elements of the Guidelines, blurring the distinction between JDTCs and TJCs. (Publisher abstract provided)