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From Whether to How Drug Courts Work: Retrospective Evaluation of Drug Courts in Clark County (Las Vegas) and Multnomah County (Portland)

NCJ Number
Date Published
403 pages
Publication Series
This report presents Phase II findings from the national evaluation of the Portland (Multnomah County), Oregon, and Las Vegas (Clark County), Nevada, drug courts, two of the longest functioning and most highly recognized drug courts in the United States.
The purpose of this research was to ask common questions of two different drug courts and to test some of the assumptions of the drug court model by using the framework of a drug court typology. The evaluation involved tracking the implementation and development of the Portland (1991-98) and Las Vegas (1992-98) drug courts from their inception through most of the 1990's. Phase II extended the analysis of the impact of the two courts beyond the Phase I research. First, the comparative justice and treatment outcomes for participants are described for one, two, and three years. A discussion of the findings addresses methodological issues that relate to sample differences and a priori risk attributes that could influence the findings and their interpretation. In considering "how" drug courts work, Phase II findings also cover the courtroom workload of the two courts, as the content of the daily workload was analyzed, along with implications for understanding court impact. The report then turns to an examination of selected issues or functions critical to assumptions that underlie the drug court model. Geographic implications of the "downtown" drug court led to a consideration of the drug court as not only a "court" but also a "community justice" innovation. As examples of innovations related to the drug courts examined, the study addressed the rural drug court in Laughlin, NV, and the juvenile drug court in Las Vegas, as well as the development of community courts in Portland. This report concludes by considering the implications of the Phase I and Phase II finding of the national drug court evaluations in the two sites for understanding whether and to what extent drug courts "work," as well as how they work and when they work. A causal model of drug court impact is proposed and tested, which involves analyzing the relative influence of key drug court ingredients. 32 tables, 33 figures, 40 references, and appended supplementary tables

Date Published: January 1, 2001