LAWG WEEK: Michelle Slattery on the Need for Evaluators in Problem Solving Courts

Greetings from Colorado!  I am Michelle Slattery, President and founder of Peak Research, a consulting firm specializing in program evaluation and STEM research, and evaluator for the 4th Judicial District Veteran Trauma Court at University of Colorado – Colorado Springs Trauma, Health & Hazards Center. I am writing about the need for evaluators in problem solving courts. These courts provide treatment and alternatives to incarceration for people with community health issues like substance use disorders or combat trauma. They are growing rapidly (more than 2,500 courts nationwide) because they show promise for increasing treatment engagement and reducing recidivism (relapse of negative behavior). They are easily criticized, however, because there is currently little evaluation research being done to inform their processes, measure their cost savings, and provide evidence of impact. Slattery My team recently concluded work on a 5-year Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery – Priority to Veterans (JDTR) grant administered by the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health and funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), which required and funded extensive process and outcome evaluation. During our tenure on the JDTR grant, we helped improve the court and obtain funding and sustainability by sharing and publishing results that document significant improvements in recidivism, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use, depression, self-harm, and resilience. You can read more about the work here. Problem solving courts are a natural fit for evaluators, providing a rare opportunity to conduct evaluation that can help save lives while also improving communities.

Cool Trick: Check out to create your own custom signs like the Uncle Sam recruiting poster above.

Lesson Learned: Experimental studies with random selection and random assignment are very difficult to implement in the judicial system.  Quasi-experimental designs using propensity score matching may be the best alternative.

Rad Resource: Check out the Interactive Map provided by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals to find problem solving courts in your state.

Hot Tips:

  • While you’re in town, the Colorado Convention Center is a 5-10 minute cab ride from some fun diversions – Voodoo Doughnuts (1520 E. Colfax) and the Tattered Cover Book Store (2526 E. Colfax).  Voodoo is famous for their voodoo dolls, complete with a pretzel stake through the raspberry jelly heart, as well as an assortment of vegan doughnuts, throwback flavors to the 70s like Captain Crunch, and a giant glazed doughnut called the “Tex Ass.”
  • If you’re in the mood for a short road trip, you are just an hour’s drive from Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Garden of the Gods park, and the Cog Railroad which goes to the top of Pikes Peak.  At the top, you will also find doughnuts being made – at 14,110 feet!

We’re thinking forward to October and the Evaluation 2014 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Registration will soon be open! Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to

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