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The Dedicated Drug Courts pilot evaluation process study

Scales of justice
Researchers: Jane Kerr
Published: January 2011


To examine the implementation of six pilot Dedicated Drug Courts (DDCs) dealing with drug misusing offenders, which were introduced to magistrates’ courts in England and Wales from  2004.

To look at the DDCs’ potential for reducing drug use and associated offending.


Staff and offenders support DDC model

Staff and offenders think the DDC model is a useful addition to the range of initiatives aimed at reducing drug use and offending.

Continuity of judiciary is a key element  to DDC success

Offenders seeing the same magistrate or district judge throughout their DDC experience is a key feature of the DDC model.

Overall, five of the six sites achieved at least partial continuity for 90% of reviewed cases. Partial continuity was defined as at least one person on the bench participating in two consecutive reviews of a given case.  Although the qualitative accounts indicated that there was variation in the degree of continuity for sentencing and breach hearings.

Staff and offenders believe continuity:

  • helps develop offender’s relationship with judiciary;
  • plays a key role in setting concrete goals and raising offender’s self-esteem;
  • helps offenders engage in the process and feel a degree of accountability for their actions.

Staff think DDCs enable more efficient use of resources

Staff believe that having multiple agencies present in court at the same time and in the same meetings helps to:

  • improve partnership working between the court, probation and drug treatment services in some cases;
  • reduce costs by facilitating more efficient ways of working.

But they also identify potential pressures on existing resources

Staff also identified areas where the new approach had put pressure on existing resources (or could potentially).

For instance, staff believed that having a legal advisor/coordinator with time dedicated to the drug court is important for establishing the necessary systems and processes and ensuring compliance with the court’s framework.

But ring-fencing a co-ordinator’s DDC work reduced their court time, which entailed an increase in court work for other legal advisors.

Staff and offenders think DDCs have limited scope to reduce drug-related re-offending on their own

Staff and offenders think that the ability of the courts to reduce drug related re-offending on their own is limited: the quality of treatment received and other issues in offenders’ lives play a significant role.


  • Qualitative case studies to explore perceptions and experiences of staff at each DDC. Offenders were also interviewed at four out of the six sites, and the interviews were complemented by observing the courts in session..
  • Analysis of quantitative data collected by the DDCs.

Read the report