Drug Testing in Probation and Parole Supervision: Establishing a Foundation for Rigorous Evaluation

Client: Arnold Ventures
Topic Areas: Behavioral health and substance use; Other
Services: Applied Research, Participatory Evaluation

Random and scheduled drug testing in probation and parole supervision casts a wide and costly net, subjecting most people on supervision to frequent drug tests regardless of their substance use, recovery, or conviction history. Drug testing is a leading driver of returns to incarceration, with few indications that it is linked to success on supervision or recidivism in general. The impacts of revocation fall disproportionately on Black and Latino communities. New ideas and evidence-based reforms are needed to eliminate barriers to success on supervision related to drug testing.  

ICH has received a grant from Arnold Ventures to begin building a research and evaluation portfolio that identifies promising existing practices and innovations in drug testing and tests their effectiveness using an equitable evaluation framework. In Phase 1 ICH and the American Probation and Parole Association will use a sequential explanatory mixed-methods design to explore the current landscape of drug testing in probation and parole supervision, how that landscape may have shifted in recent years, and how agencies are thinking about drug testing practices in the future. In Phase 2 ICH will conduct evaluability assessments with agencies in selected jurisdictions to identify opportunities to conduct rigorous and equitable evaluation of drug testing practices. The phase 2 evaluability study will also probe the extent to which a theoretical evaluation would advance equity; whether an evaluation could be participant-oriented and valid for people on supervision; and whether an evaluation could determine the effectiveness of drug testing for populations who have been historically harmed by the justice system (i.e. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people). Equitable evaluation practices have not been widely utilized in evaluations of probation and parole supervision practices, so this project offers the opportunity to establish a new, more just framework for evaluation of community supervision practices.