This pilot study is partially funded by the Center for Children and Childhood Studies
Impact of Camden's Drug Court on Families with Children
My research on Crack Mothers focused on social reactions to the women who used drugs during pregnancy during the 1980s and 1990s (Humphries, 1999a). In looking around for alternatives to the punitive war on drugs, I came across drug courts, a new way of combining justice and substance abuse treatment for offenders(Hora, Schma, & Rosenthal, 1999). I am studying drug court because this institution holds out great promise for families and the well-being of children. The Center for the Center for Children and Childhood Studies has funded the first step, a pilot study designed to test research procedures for a larger investigation of drug court clients adjustment following drug court. Family and parenting responsibilities are key areas of investigation.
With a verdict or negotiated plea of guilty, non-violent offenders whose crimes are drug-driven may apply to drug court. Alternatively, felons who have violated the conditions of regular probation due to drug addiction may also apply to drug court. If the court approves, defendants are sentenced to as much as five years probation and must successfully complete drug treatment and all the terms of aftercare. If the defendant fails to comply with the terms of probation, the court terminates probation and re-sentences the defendant to a period of incarceration (National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 1998).
Drug courts have been justified on grounds that they reduce criminal activity, lower criminal justice costs and decrease case pressure on criminal courts (Peters & Peyton, 1998). The evidence suggests that reductions in criminal activity can be expected from drug courts, although the jury is still out on case pressures and cost savings (Belenko, 1998).
Overlooked are clients' adjustments to drug-free life styles. Positive adjustments include improved health; educational progress, gainful employment; debt reduction or other signs of financial stability; and maintenance of a sober and crime free lifestyle. The resumption of family and parental responsibilities is of special concern because 80% of drug court clients have responsibilities for minor children. Whether clients succeed in the family arena is built on stability across other areas of life.
Has successful completion of drug court helped these clients adjust to civilian life as healthy human beings, who maintain a drug-free, law abiding life style and who also work and fulfill family responsibilities, including parenting?
The question can be answered by using a two-group, pretest-posttest design with subjects selected according to their eligibility for drug court (Bernard, 2000). While this design sacrifices control for reality, it allows us to take advantage of the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) used to establish clinical eligibility. Everyone eligible for drug court has been given the ASI; the post-test will use it along with an interview schedule.
The Addiction Severity Index (ASI) is a widely used public domain instrument used for screening, assessment, and drug treatment planning (Office of Justice Programs, 1998c). It is reliable and valid for use with a variety of substance using populations (Office of Justice Programs, 1998c). The ASI examines functional areas, which are commonly affected by an individual's drug abuse. The areas include health status, employment status, family and social relationships, and legal status. The pilot study tests this instrument.
The study focuses on nonviolent offenders who entered drug court as failed probationers. Camden Drug Court has processed 95 such offenders since 1996(1998 Class of Leadership New Jersey, 2000). It also takes advantage of eligibility test for admission to the court in order to select comparison group (Boyle, 2000). To be eligible for Adult Drug Court in Camden, applicants must meet the clinical standard for addiction. Some eligible applicants participate in drug court; others do not. Eligible applicants who participated in drug court make up the experimental group. Eligible applicants who rejected drug court comprise the control group. Questions about sampling and sample size will be resolved by the pilot study. Addiction status and prior offenses are known for both groups. The pilot study is designed to test recruitment procedures.
Drug court and its program of drug treatment define the "intervention" that the project seeks to evaluate. Camden County Probation records can be used to specify the intervention: counseling sessions, 12-step meetings, sanctions, contacts with probation, the payment of fees, fines, and penalties, and so forth can all be quantified for each client in the experimental group. The same records can be reviewed for the control group.
To provide assurances that matched comparison groups are appropriately similar, group differences on the demographic variables will be tested for statistical significance. If cases are randomly selected from each group, systematic differences can be assumed to cancel one another out. Sampling strategies depend on the outcome of the pilot study.
Group differences on post-test variables will be tested for statistical significance. Outcomes may be formulated as group means, for example, for health, the average number of emergency room visits might be calculated for each group and then group difference tested for statistical significant (t-test). Other outcome variables may be expressed as percentages, for example, the percentage of persons in each group who have a significant problem with a child or spouse. Percentage differences would then be tested for statistical significance (Chi-squared).
The level of data analysis will be determined by sample size. If the sample consists of the minimum 30 subjects in each group, data analysis is limited to group differences on single variables where only the strongest effects would be detected (Meyer, 2000). Anything beyond univariate analysis would depend on incremental increases (60, 90) in the size of the sample.
Potential loss of subjects, changes in the intervention, and the diffusion of effects from the experimental to control group are among the threats to validity (Bernard, 2000). Most extraneous variables can be controlled, and even though I can list changes in Drug Court, I cannot prevent them or rule them out as explanations. Court records can be used to prevent diffusion of effects, but procedures designed to minimize the impact of case mortality may not be as effective as anticipated (see pilot study).
Because drug court clients are under the jurisdiction of the court, authorization to review their probation records was required. The Chief Administrator of the Court for the State of New Jersey (AOC) has approved the proposal, clearing the way for the pilot to proceed. Should the pilot determine that project is feasible, AOC has required a separate approval process.
Drug court clients are like prisoners in that their supervision is a potential source of coercion. In addition to ensuring confidentiality, every effort must be made to inform subjects of the voluntary nature of participation and to provide for subjects who may feel uncomfortable or distressed as a result of being interviewed. The proposal including consent form is pending approval by Rutgers' Institutional Review Board (IRB). Again, should the pilot determine the feasibility of the larger study, IRB has required a separate and ongoing approval process.
Designed to tests two procedures for locating subjects, the pilot involves only 10 subjects. In the first procedure, the office of probation will select 5 graduates who have been released from probation, contact them on behalf of the study, and ask if they would like to participate. If the graduate agrees, he or she would be given the name of the interviewer, a contact location and time, and the information that participants will receive $25.00 for the interview.
The second approach differs only in this: Probation contacts 5 graduates who are still on probation. Results will be used to identify effective recruitment procedures, although one possibility is to restrict the subjects to graduates who are close to the end, but still on probation and then interview them following release.
If all 95 drug court clients and an equal number of non-drug court clients can be located, and if all agree to the interview, then a matched sample strategy is appropriate. However, the likelihood of finding all or even most of the 95 drug court clients and a comparison group may be quit low. Even so, I should be able to find some. The minimum number for each group is 30, 30 being the number of subjects needed to analyze group differences on a single variable (Meyer, 2000). The selection of 30 out of 95 subjects makes sample bias a significant issue. Randomizing the selection of subjects from each pool guards against sample bias, but its utility depends on how many times one has to return to the pool to reach the minimum number of subjects.
While the Addiction Severity Index is a widely used, reliable instrument, the interviewers for this project have not used it; consequently interviewers will be trained on the ANSI instrument and the interview schedule. The pilot will be a test run for the interviewers as well as use of the instruments to assess client adjustment. In the functional area of family and social relationships, the study is interested in: marital status, duration of and satisfaction with marital status, usual living arrangements, their duration, and clients satisfaction with them; close family relationships, including those with children; problematic family relationships, also including those with children. The Interview schedule probes more deeply into client's relationship with children and client's perception of the children's well-being.
In addition to probing family relationships, the interview schedule will be used to check clients' truth telling, especially in the areas of crime and drug use.
1998 Class of Leadership New Jersey. (2000). Drug Courts in New Jersey: Past, Present and Future. Unpublished Manuscript.
Belenko, S. (1998). Research on Drug Courts: A Critical Review. National Drug Court Institute Review, I(1).
Bernard, H.R. (2000). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Boyle, C. (2000). Personal Communication, June 29. Trenton, N.J..
Hora, P. F., Schma, W. G., & Rosenthal, J. T. A. (1999). Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Drug Treatment Court Movement: Revolutionizing the Criminal Justice System's Response to Drug Abuse and Crime in America. Notre Dame Law Review, 74(2), 439-538.
Humphries, D. (1999a). Crack Mothers: Pregnancy, Drugs, and the Media. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
Meyer, J. ( 2000). Personal Communication, August 10. Camden, N.J.
National Association of Drug Court Professionals. (1998). Defining Drug Courts: The Key Components January 1997. Washington, D.C.: Drug Courts Program Office, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
Office of Justice Programs. (1998c). Drug Court Monitoring, Evaluation, Management of Information Systems. Washington, D.C.: Justice Management Institute, Drug Courts Program Office, U.S. Department of Justice.
Peters, R. H., & Peyton, E. (1998). Guideline for drug courts on screening and assessment. Washington, DC: Drug Courts Program Office, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
For more information, please contact
Drew Humphries, Department
of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, Rutgers
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