Justice, rehabilitation and reintegration: evaluating the effectiveness of Drug Courts in Australia

Amanda Clarke

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

The establishment of drug courts has been hailed for some years now as a credible addition to the Australian criminal justice system, one intended to positively influence the drug-crime nexus. Drug courts have now entered their second decade of existence in Australia and bring a considerable literature base with them, with recidivism being the default outcome measure used to determine drug court program performance. This research determined what other elements of the drug court process are linked to the successful completion of a drug court program.
The research used a pragmatic approach and a mixed-methods research design that incorporated quantitative and qualitative approaches to achieve two objectives. The first objective was to identify assessment criteria for Australian drug courts in relation to the operation of the five Australian drug court jurisdictions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia. The second objective was to identify elements of the drug court process that are related to success from the perspective of drug court stakeholders, primarily their participants. The approaches adopted included a documentary analysis of secondary data concerning the operation and outcomes of the five Australian drug court jurisdictions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia; the collection and thematic analysis of naturalistic observational data (qualitative) gathered from drug court proceedings; and, the collection and quantitative analysis of statistics gathered from drug court proceedings.This research identified five assessment criteria that can be described as indicia of a drug court’s success: breaking the drug-crime nexus, economic feasibility, general society well-being, governance, and participant satisfaction. It also identified that one overarching theme, the rehabilitative ideal, is linked to drug court success. Central to this theme are four notable elements, namely: structure and accountability, judicial relationship, court capacity, and rewards and sanctions. While this constitutes a significant progression, work remains to isolate which elements are relevant to positive outcomes. In this vein, drug courts can be informed by the drug court model, identified success assessment measures and identified outcomes developed in this research.
Through the triangulation of results from the analysis of secondary data and observational data, this research succeeded in aligning the drug court model, as outlined in the current literature, with actual drug court structures and processes through identified assessment criteria and outcomes; however, the task remains to distinguish between the instrumental functions and their outcomes. The appearances before the judge, the appointments for treatment, drug tests and other activities form part of the delivery of the treatment effect. The results they produce, drug court success or failure, are overall drug court outcomes. Enough encouraging evidence exists to support the promise of drug courts, yet much more work is needed to isolate which elements are relevant to positive outcomes. In this vein, drug courts can be informed by the developed drug court model, identified assessment criteria and identified outcomes in this research.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Policing and Security
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Prunckun, Henry, Principal Supervisor
  • Corbo Crehan, Anna, Principal Supervisor
  • den Heyer, Garth, Advisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes

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