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Virginia Tech Study of New River Valley Adult Drug Treatment Courts Finds 4 to 1 Return on Investment (ROI) for Local Governments Annually

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A research team led by Sarah Lyon-Hill with the VT Office of Economic Development including Mary Beth Dunkenberger, Lara Nagle and Neda Moayerian of the VT Institute for Policy and Governance, and Sophie Wenzel of the VT Center for Public Health Practice and Research, presented the results of their six-month study of the programmatic and fiscal impacts of four adult drug treatment courts in the New River Valley (NRV) (in Floyd, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski Counties) to the NRV Drug Court Advisory Committee in November 2020.

The adult drug treatment courts are an alternative to a traditional sentence for offenders with non-violent, substance use-related charges. Drug court participants undergo intense monitoring, supervision and treatment. Each is also required to complete specific community service and employment requirements in order to graduate from the program with a reduced or expunged sentence. The program typically takes individuals 18-24 months to complete. The drug court teams in each locality are comprised of stakeholders from law enforcement, criminal justice, treatment and case management and peer support. All members work together to provide a supportive and positive participant experience.

The fiscal impact and cost-benefit analysis the research group undertook utilized administrative records to identify a number of monetary benefits derived from the drug courts as an alternative to incarceration. They found that the program was resulting in a four to one return on investment (ROI) for participating local governments annually. The programmatic impact analysis was based on interviews and surveys of approximately 80 program stakeholders and participants to identify key themes that explained the success of the program, such as the strategic coordination of the drug court teams and the provision of a full continuum of care for treatment, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The analysis also highlighted recommendations to improve the drug court model at the regional and programmatic level, such as partnering with the local workforce development board to leverage funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s recovery ecosystem initiative and developing more recovery housing in the region.

The project team is seeking to build from the knowledge gained during this research project to continue to study the efficacy of drug treatment courts more broadly in Virginia and nationally.  If you have interest in this area of research please contact us at ipg@vt.edu.