Drug Policy

Drug courts are special criminal court dockets that provide judicially supervised substance abuse treatment and case management services to nonviolent drug-involved criminal offenders in lieu of prosecution and incarceration. The drug court model assumes that most drug offenders are addicts or serious drug abusers, and that drug use fuels or exacerbates other criminal activity. As a result, drug court clients are typically required to satisfy an intensive regimen of treatment and supervisory obligations. However, research suggests that roughly one-third of clients in drug courts do not have a diagnosable or clinically significant substance use disorder (DeMatteo, Marlowe, Festinger, and Arabia, 2009). For these clients, standard drug court services may be ineffective or even clinically contraindicated. Instead, these low-risk clients may be best suited for a secondary prevention or early intervention approach directed at interrupting the acquisition of addictive behaviors. Unfortunately, there are no established secondary prevention packages that could be readily adapted for use with adults in criminal justice settings. We received a 2-year R21 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop a secondary prevention intervention for adult drug court clients who do not have an identifiable substance use disorder. The intervention is being developed with the assistance of a multi-disciplinary expert panel, and is currently being pilot tested among misdemeanor drug court clients in Wilmington, Delaware. Future research will examine the effectiveness of the intervention among other criminal justice populations, including reentry clients.


My research on psychopathy focuses on basic questions about the construct of psychopathy among under-studied groups, and the use of psychopathy measures in judicial and forensic contexts. Although we know a great deal about psychopathy among incarcerated and forensic populations, we know relatively little about psychopathy among community samples. Some of my earlier work examined psychopathy among non-criminal community samples, and we’re planning to continue this line of research. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is the most empirically validated instrument for measuring psychopathy in correctional and forensic psychiatric populations. The PCL-R’s predictive utility with criminal justice populations has led to its frequent use by clinicians conducting forensic assessments in criminal and sexually violent predator (SVP) cases. Despite its apparent wide acceptance in U.S. courts, little is known about how often the PCL-R is being introduced, the types of cases in which it is being used, and whether claims made in court regarding psychopathy are empirically defensible and/or relevant to the question at hand. In earlier research, we documented the use of the PCL-R in U.S. courts from 1991 through 2004, by year, jurisdiction, type of evaluation, and party (DeMatteo & Edens, 2006). Results suggested that the PCL-R is being used by expert witnesses with increasing regularity across U.S. jurisdictions, primarily to assess risk of future violence. Unfortunately, this project also uncovered several cases that illustrate concerns regarding the questionable validity of the PCL-R to certain types of legal questions that may arise in criminal and SVP trials. The next step in this line of research involves updating the previous case law survey, and replicating the survey using case law from other countries. A related line of research is examining the probative value and prejudicial impact of psychopathy evidence in court.

Examining Interventions for Jail Reentry Clients

For the past several years, Kirk Heilbrun and I have been consulting with Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), which operates private assessment and rehabilitation centers for criminal offenders throughout the U.S. Several of their facilities operate as reentry facilities for state prison inmates being released from incarceration. In collaboration with CEC, we are examining the effectiveness of the reentry programming, including its effectiveness of specific populations of offenders (e.g., females). We are also planning to evaluate the “treatment fit” between clients’ criminogenic needs and the provided interventions.