Drug Court Re-evaluation

Date: 18 Nov 2008 

Click here for the full report (pdf , 421Kb)

A re-evaluation of the NSW Drug Court has shown that it is more cost-effective than prison in reducing the rate of re-offending among offenders whose crime is drug related.

The NSW Drug Court was established in 1999 and the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) and the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE) completed the original evaluation in 2002. The results of that evaluation showed the Drug Court to be more cost-effective than prison but the differences in cost effectiveness were not very large.

The NSW Drug Court has since undergone significant change designed to improve its cost-effectiveness relative to conventional sanctions.

Amongst other things, sanctions for non-compliance with program conditions have been made more flexible, participants are now given formal warnings if they fail to progress, police have a greater role in screening for eligibility and the threshold for program termination has been reduced.

The results of the present re-evaluation by BOCSAR and CHERE show that, controlling for other factors, participants in the NSW Drug Court are significantly less likely to be reconvicted than offenders given conventional sanctions (mostly imprisonment).

When the Drug Court and comparison group were compared on an intention-to-treat basis 1 , offenders accepted onto the Drug Court program were found to be 17 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for any offence, 30 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a violent offence and 38 per cent less likely to be reconvicted for a drug offence at any point during the follow-up period (which averaged 35 months).

When the Drug Court and comparison group were compared on an as-treated basis 2 members of the Drug Court group were found to be 37 per cent less likely to be reconvicted of any offence, 65 per cent less likely to be reconvicted of an offence against the person, 35 per cent less likely to be reconvicted of a property offence and 58 per cent less likely to be reconvicted of a drug offence.

The economic analysis conducted by CHERE showed that the total cost of the Drug Court program is $16.376 million per annum. The largest drivers of this final cost are the cost of final imprisonment (for those who do not complete the program successfully 3) and the cost of staffing and running the court.

CHERE found, however, that the estimated cost of dealing with the same offenders via the conventional sanctions would have been slightly higher ($18.134 million per annum).

CHERE also examined the cost of several initiatives undertaken by the Drug Court to improve access to the program and make it more efficient and effective.

These initiatives included use of a ballot to reduce the number of applicants required to be assessed for possible placement on the program, allowing Aboriginal and female offenders to re-enter the ballot if rejected on the first round, increasing the number of urine tests conducted to check program compliance and allowing participants on the program to accrue sanctions.

Use of the ballot was found to improve the cost-effectiveness of the Drug Court program. The sanction accrual policy substantially reduced the cost of the Drug Court (down $2,465 per participant) and is also likely to have improved the Drug Court's cost-effectiveness.

Allowing Aboriginal and female offenders did not improve the Drug Court's cost-effectiveness but nor did it impose any additional cost burden on the Drug Court. The increased urinalysis added substantially to the overall cost of the Drug Court but the data were not available to determine whether its effect on recidivism was positive, negative or neutral.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau said that they added to a growing body of international evidence that Drug Courts are more cost-effective than prison when it comes to reducing the risk of re-offending among recidivist offenders whose crime is drug-related.

Further enquiries: Effectiveness issues: Dr Don Weatherburn 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408. Cost issues: Dr Stephen Goodall 9514 4752.
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  1. In these analyses, offenders in the Drug Court group were compared with offenders in the comparison group, regardless of whether the former remained in treatment or were removed from the program.
  2. In these analyses, offenders in the Drug Court group were compared with offenders in the comparison group, only if they satisfactorily completed the Drug Court program.
  3. Forty four percent of individuals graduated Drug Court (no imprisonment), the remainder received conventional sanctions albeit usually reduced from initial sentencing.



Link to Crime & Justice bulletin report: The NSW Drug Court: A re-evaluation of its effectiveness - pdf 422Kb