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Evaluation of Breaking the Cycle

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2003
153 pages
This report presents the methodology and findings of the evaluation of the Breaking the Cycle (BTC) demonstration projects, which tested the feasibility and impact of systemwide intervention to reduce drug use among offenders by identifying and intervening with drug-involved felony defendants.

BTC demonstration projects were conducted in Birmingham, AL; Jacksonville, FL; and Tacoma, WA, between 1997 and 2001. Under BTC, all adult felony defendants were ordered to report to BTC for drug screening as a condition of pretrial release. Those who reported drug use, tested positive for drugs, or were arrested on drug felony charges were placed in drug testing and, when appropriate, referred to drug treatment or drug education classes. The key system reforms instituted under the BTC model were early intervention, judicial oversight, graduated sanctions and incentives, and collaboration among justice and treatment agencies. The process evaluation goals were to assess the feasibility of BTC as a model, identify the strategies developed and lessons learned at the sites regarding systemwide responses to drug use, and document the services delivered as a basis for understanding the impact evaluation outcomes. Data for the process evaluation were collected from interviews with staff of collaborating agencies, weekly conference calls with site project directors, computerized information systems of participating agencies, and monthly reports on project activities. The impact evaluation tested the general hypothesis that BTC would reduce drug use, crime, and drug-related problems among offenders. Changes in case processing during BTC were also examined. The impact evaluation was based on a quasi-experimental comparison of defendants in BTC with samples of similar defendants arrested in the year before BTC implementation. Results of the impact evaluation were used to estimate the return on investment in BTC. The process evaluation found that BTC implementation fell short of the ideal in all three demonstration sites, which made clear the difficulties of coordinating efforts to reduce drug use among all drug-involved felony defendants released to the community while their cases are pending. Process lessons for the future pertain to strategies for identifying and responding to a range of substance abuse problems, the data infrastructure required to track the progress of individuals as they have contact with multiple agencies, and issues in managing interagency collaboration across justice and treatment agencies. The impact evaluation confirmed the benefits of BTC strategies, even when imperfectly implemented. Efforts to reduce drug use among all felony defendants under supervision in the community did produce gains in public safety. Extensive tables and figures, 71 references, and appended information on impact evaluation methodology; changes in case handling, disposition, and sentencing in the evaluation samples; and composite scale properties

Date Published: February 1, 2003