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Does Coerced Treatment of Substance-Using Offenders Lead to Improvements in Substance Use and Recidivism? A Review of the Treatment Efficacy Literature


David Bright, School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, UNSW Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia, email:


The use of legally coerced treatment for substance-using offenders is now widespread internationally. To justify the continued use of coerced treatment, policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers are obliged to demonstrate the effectiveness and limitations of such programs. This article aims to provide a broad overview of scholarship on the efficacy of coerced treatment including an examination of factors that may limit or augment any benefits. A literature review was undertaken in which articles were classified as general topic reviews, critical reviews, and evaluations. Evaluation articles were further categorised into those examining implementation or process factors, delivery factors, participation/retention, and the impact of coerced treatment on the outcome measures of substance use and recidivism. In the case of critical reviews and evaluation studies, we present a brief review of the literature in each area. For articles on efficacy, we adopt a hypothesis-testing approach to examine substance use and criminal justice outcomes of coerced treatment in each stage of the criminal justice system. We identify specific gaps in the research literature and recommend that new programs incorporate research agendas (e.g., appropriate comparison groups) prior to implementation.