Specialty Courts: Who’s In and Are They Working?

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Abstract

The effectiveness of specialty courts has been well established in the literature; however, previous studies have not taken into account referral biases that may exist based on offenders’ race, socioeconomic status (SES), attorney status, and so forth. The current study hypothesized that (a) Participants who are racially diverse, of lower SES, and represented by privately retained attorneys would be referred less frequently to specialty courts, and (b) Participants in specialty courts would evidence reductions in missed court appointments and failed urinary analyses (UAs) compared with peers not enrolled in specialty courts. Participants (N = 274) were probationers who were involved in 1 of 3 specialty court programs (i.e., drug, driving while intoxicated [DWI], or reentry courts) or a matched sample of probationers not in specialty court services. Results indicated that, in general and with few exceptions, specialty courts did not have differential referral rates based on offender demographics including race, ethnicity, SES, or attorney status (court appointed vs. privately retained). Results examining the effectiveness of the specialty courts were mixed. Participants in the in-prison treatment program reentry court missed a greater proportion of scheduled court meetings than did their matched sample counterparts; however, the other specialty court programs did not significantly differ from their matched-sample counterparts. Participants in the DWI court had a significantly smaller proportion of UA failures to total UAs than did their matched sample peers; however, the drug court and reentry court programs did not significantly differ from their matched sample counterparts. Implications, future directions, and limitations are discussed.

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