Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Reports

A friend has sent along blurbs on a couple of new reports, one on a recidivism study involving mental health courts that shows good results and the other, the Sentencing Project's latest report on our "War on (Some) Drugs" (my term, not theirs). Both are interesting, but I'd like to note one thing in the Project's report that we rarely talk about. One of the chief reasons we give for locking people up for doing drugs is the nondrug crime they commit. But, as this report reports, a correlation has been found between drug effort and increases in property offenses. This isn't the first time I've seen this. Back in the mid-90s there was a guy trying to get someone, anyone in KS to pay attention to him before it launched its local "Won(S)D" because he had also found the same correlation in other states. Fat lot of good it did him, but it isn't hard to understand. All the resources you put into drug enforcement had to come from somewhere in the finite budgets we have. So the next step is obviously to compare whatever (unproven) additional crime results from drugs to that the increase that results from our shift of resources. (Oh, and check out the link at the end of the Project's report on state incarceration rates by race. I'd missed it before and it's fascinating.)

Here are the blurbs:

A new study has found that use of the San Francisco Behavioral Health Court (BHC) can reduce the risk of recidivism and violence by people with mental illnesses involved with the criminal justice system. Recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study retroactively compared the occurrence of new criminal charges for 170 BHC participants with 8,067 adults with mental illnesses booked into the county jail during the same period.
After compensating for selection bias, demographics, prior charges and clinical diagnoses, researchers concluded that participation in the BHC resulted in longer time without any new charges. BHC participants had approximately a 26 percent lower risk of new criminal charges and a 55 percent lower risk for violent crimes than the group of comparable individuals. The study also found that these positive results extended beyond a participant's involvement with the mental health court; eighteen months after graduation, the BHC group had an estimated 39 percent lower risk of being arrested for a new offense and 54 percent lower risk for a violent crime than the control group.

These findings represent an important step in testing empirically the impact of mental health courts. Although the Justice Center estimates that well over 150 mental health courts are in operation across the country, few studies have evaluated the effect of these programs on participants' recidivism rates. Therefore, the fact that involvement in the BHC lowers its participants' risk of new offenses and, more importantly, that this trend extends beyond involvement in the program itself, is very encouraging for mental health courts across the country.

To read more about the study, click here. View a profile of the San Francisco Behavioral Health Court on the InfoNet.


The Sentencing Project has released a new report that examines the burden of the "war on drugs" on the criminal justice system and American communities. A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society assesses the strategy of combating drug abuse primarily with enhanced punishments at the expense of investments in treatment and prevention.

The report documents how the drug war has produced a record expansion of prison and jail systems and highlights additional indicators of the war's impact on the criminal justice system and communities, including:

Drug arrests have more than tripled since 1980 to a record 1.8 million by 2005;
Four of five (81.7%) drug arrests were for possession offenses, and 42.6% were for marijuana charges in 2005;
Nearly six in 10 persons in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug selling;
Only 14% of persons in 2004 who report using drugs in the month before their arrest had participated in a treatment program, a decline of more than half from participation rates in 1991;
A shortage of treatment options in many low-income neighborhoods contributes to drug abuse being treated primarily as a criminal justice problem, rather than a social problem.

report also provides policy recommendations that can help effectively reinvest government resources in community safety by encouraging comprehensive drug treatment and prevention strategies to address drug addiction.

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