The criminal justice system has become the primary source of referrals to drug treatment. Despite substantial evidence that minorities, particularly African Americans, are over-represented in the drug arrestee population, they remain a relatively small share of criminal justice referrals. It has yet to be determined if this lower representation is a function of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system or an artifact of some common case-level factors that reduce minority eligibility for treatment referral. We propose to examine the adjudication of drug offenders in California from 1982- 2005 to determine the extent to which race/ethnicity has played a role in final disposition and referral to drug treatment. California represents a unique environment in which to examine these associations because of its demographic and regional diversity, availability of detailed administrative data representing a census of individuals arrested and processed, and adoption of two important policies - drug courts and diversion - that promote treatment in lieu of incarceration. The proposed study significantly improves existing research by considering temporal and geographic patterns in disparities at each stage of the adjudication process within a single state subject to the same rule of law. It comprehensively considers the role of race/ethnicity at each stage of the adjudication process and the net effect on the final placement of minorities in treatment, and so may identify why previous studies have provided inconsistent results. Finally, by considering the impact of restorative justice policies, such as drug courts and diversion, on the processing of drug offenders by race/ethnicity, this project will assist policymakers with efforts to reduce disparities in the criminal justice and treatment system. The elimination of health disparities is an overarching goal of Healthy People 2010. The criminal justice system is critical to eliminating disparities because minorities, particularly African Americans, are substantially over-represented in this population and because the criminal justice system is the largest referral source to treatment. A careful examination of the adjudication process for drug offenders will make it possible to determine if differential access to treatment truly exists among arrestees and what factors have caused it. Further, by examining trends in adjudication practices using a large panel data set in California, this study will be able to explicitly consider whether recent policy reforms aimed at improving access to treatment particularly among minorities have indeed done so.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Human Development Research Subcommittee (NIDA)
Program Officer
Fletcher, Bennett
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Rand Corporation
Santa Monica
United States
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MacDonald, John; Arkes, Jeremy; Nicosia, Nancy et al. (2014) Decomposing Racial Disparities in Prison and Drug Treatment Commitments for Criminal Offenders in California. J Legal Stud 43:155-187
Caulkins, Jonathan P; Nicosia, Nancy (2010) What economics can contribute to the addiction sciences. Addiction 105:1156-63