Drug Courts have demonstrated a reduction in recidivism in comparison to traditional probation programs. Prior studies have not addressed why drug courts are effective from the participants' perspective. This study used focus groups to attempt to understand why the drug court model worked for these offenders when other approaches failed.The results suggest that avoiding jail or prison are the initial impetus to join, but individualized treatment, structure, accountability, and rewards are the factors cited as being most important for success in drug court. Many successful participants had long criminal and addiction histories. This study used eight years of drug court data to examine whether the drug court approach is appropriate for persistent offenders. Persistent offenders were more likely to graduate and had similar rates of new arrests than offenders with less prior involvement in the criminal justice system. Implication for policy makers are discussed.

Key Take Away Points

  • Drug court successfully interrupts years of drug use and offending for many participants.
  • The drug court approach provides a unique blend of treatment, encouragement, and accountability that other types of programs lack.
  • Drug court offenders discuss the process as life changing and cite reconnection with family members that had been previously broken.
  • Drug court administrators should consider targeting chronic offenders as an opportunity to reduce the fiscal cost to the criminal justice system.

Author Biography

Clete Snell is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston Downtown. He has conducted several process and outcome evaluations of drug, mental health, and veterans courts.


The author would like to acknowledge the staff and participants of the Harris County STAR Drug Court for their cooperation with this study. The author would also like to acknowledge the helpful reviews from a previous version of this article.