Drug Treatment Courts and Their Progeny in the U.S.: Overcoming Their Winding Trajectory to Make the Concept Work for the Long Term
10 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 25, 2017
Looking back over the past quarter century of justice system initiatives in the U.S., many will likely agree that the introduction of the drug court model has been one of the major innovations that occurred. For the field of court administration, it represented a practical application of Differentiated Case Management (DCM) principles – e.g. the recognition that all cases filed in a court system are not alike and that multiple paths for their disposition should be created for the purpose of both efficiency and justice. For the larger field of justice system operations, it represented a re-examination of the traditional approach for criminal case processing and a jumpstart to creating partnerships with agencies outside of the justice system per se – in this case, public health – in order to more efficiently and effectively manage the case disposition process for certain criminal cases not productively handled through the traditional criminal case process.
For the legal profession, specifically – judges, prosecutors, defense counsel – it opened up the opportunity to use the leverage of the criminal justice system to utilize therapeutic approaches to the disposition of cases that did not lend themselves to the traditional punitive criminal case disposition approach – e.g., cases involving what later became recognized as the chronic disease of addiction and associated mental health disorders. Of particular import was that these nontraditional approaches were being instituted in an era of mandatory sentencing. All of these developments occurred within the framework of the constitutional and legal procedures, including “due process protections” that govern the criminal process and none of the founding drug court leaders ever intended for the drug court model to operate outside of that framework.
The focus of this article is upon the evolution of the drug court model in the U.S. since it was first introduced – not always a straightforward path as anticipated by the early developers of the model – and discussion of a few of the numerous issues that implementation of the drug court model has raised as new generations of leaders become involved, often without the institutional perspective of those who initially instituted the program, and suggestions for moving forward to promote the long term institutionalization of the drug court model within the constitutional and legal framework that applies to the U.S. criminal justice process.
The observations and recommendations which follow draw on the author’s experience in providing technical assistance and training to over 800 drug courts in the U.S. since 1989, much of which is documented in technical assistance reports, training curricula, and presentations at state, regional and national conferences.
Keywords: Drug treatment courts, United States
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation