Predicting drug court graduation: Examining the role of individual and programmatic characteristics

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2022 Apr:135:108654. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108654. Epub 2021 Oct 29.


Introduction: Although existing research suggests drug courts reduce recidivism and substance use, a large portion of drug court participants do not graduate. According to a conceptual framework, severity of need and program intensity may help to explain variation in drug court effectiveness. Understanding variation in drug court graduation can help to identify high risk participants and effective programmatic elements.

Methods: Our sample included 247 drug court participants from an adult felony-level drug court located in a large metropolitan area of the southeastern United States that either graduated (n = 113) or were terminated (n = 134) from the program. We used participant and program characteristics from drug court program records to predict drug court graduation.

Results: In bivariate analyses, several participant and program characteristics were significantly associated with drug court graduation. In the final multivariate model, only one participant-level characteristic was significantly related to graduation: emotional/personal risk and needs (aOR: 0.56, 95% CI: 0.33, 0.93). Alternatively, three program characteristics remained statistically significant predictors of drug court graduation in the final multivariate model. Receiving more individual counseling sessions was positively associated with drug court graduation (aOR: 1.27, 95% CI: 1.14, 1.41), while jail and monetary fine sanctions were negatively associated with drug court graduation (aOR jail: 0.45, 95% CI: 0.30, 0.68; aOR fine: 0.28, 95% CI: 0.10, 0.78).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that drug court programs may benefit by tailoring services for individuals with high emotional/personal risk and participants who receive certain types of sanctions. More rigorous research should explore the causal relationship between individual counseling and drug court graduation to determine if wide-scale programmatic changes are warranted.

Keywords: Counseling; Drug court; Protective factors; Risk factors; Sanctions; Substance use treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Counseling
  • Crime
  • Humans
  • Recidivism*
  • Southeastern United States
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / psychology