Since 1989, trial courts across the United States have been developing and implementing the drug court model. Drug courts are treatment-based programs that are considered less adversarial than traditional methods of adjudication. By early in the new millennium, drug courts had “achieved considerable local support and [had] provided intensive, long-term treatment services to offenders with long histories of drug use and criminal justice contacts, previous treatment failures, and high rates of health and social problems.” Drug courts were developed in part to quell the trend of prison overcrowding associated with America’s increased “war on drugs” during the 1980s. Courts were equally burdened during this period of time and were forced to develop more efficient methods for processing drug offenders. It became apparent that the connection between drug abuse and nonviolent criminality might be better addressed by treating individuals’ substance abuse, thereby reducing their attendant criminal behavior. The result was an adult drug court model, the success of which has spun out into other treatment based models, including juvenile drug courts. Maine was one of the first states to implement a statewide system of adult and juvenile drug courts. Maine’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program (JDTCP) was a success on many levels from the time its first adolescent participant was inducted on January 26, 2000. One primary difference between Maine’s JDTCP and others across the nation was the quality of the data on which the outcome evaluations for Maine’s program were based. Maine’s program was one of the first in the nation to be evaluated by employing a quasi-experimental, matched pair design. The matched control group for these studies was statistically generated from a pool of Maine’s juvenile offenders who were adjudicated traditionally, were not referred to the JDTCP, and whose known demographic characteristics were similar to their experimental counterpart. From its inception, Maine’s JDTCP proved to be effective at lowering postprogram recidivism rates for program graduates (as compared to the control group and those expelled from the program), while growing the percentage of program graduates to well above the national average for similar juvenile programs. This difference between Maine’s graduation rate and the national average was significant because one-year post-program recidivism was lower in Maine’s graduates than the matched control group or those who were expelled from the program. Maine’s JDTCP also appeared to reduce individual drug use while participants were retained in the program. Post-program arrests for drug and alcohol violations were less likely to occur within Maine’s JDTCP participant group as compared to a non-participant, matched control group. Finally, Maine’s program continued to improve its cost effectiveness while in operation, showing a cost savings over the traditionally adjudicated control group within five years of the program’s implementation. Despite the program’s successes in its first five years of operation, today’s reality is grim. Over the last few years the budget crisis in Maine has delivered a series of unmerciful blows to its JDTCP. Funding dried up for the continuation of the quasi-experimental, matched pair evaluations after the completion of the 2006 evaluation. In July 2008, Maine’s Office for Substance Abuse (OSA) cut funding for the program by $120,000 per year, leaving the Augusta-Waterville and Bangor Drug Courts without case managers. By September 2008, the total number of participants at all six JDTCP sites had fallen to 57 percent capacity, the lowest it had been in years. The program’s death knell came in May 2009 when OSA announced its decision to cut funding for the $388,000-a-year program entirely. That decision became effective July 1, 2009. Maine’s Juvenile Drug Courts proved themselves capable of cost effective operation while meeting nationally accepted standards. They provided a socially beneficial alternative to traditional adjudication of non-violent juvenile offenders with histories of substance abuse.
Jason E. Rayne,
An Exposition of the Effectiveness of and the Challenges Plaguing Maine's Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol62/iss2/15