Therapeutic Discipline: Drug Courts, Foucault, and the Power of the Normalizing Gaze

68 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2020 Last revised: 28 Nov 2022

See all articles by Michael D. Sousa

Michael D. Sousa

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: October 2, 2020


Drug treatment courts represent a paradigm shift in the American criminal justice system. By focusing on providing drug treatment services to low-level offenders with severe use disorders rather than sentencing them to a term of incarceration, drug courts represent a return to a more rehabilitative model for dealing with individuals ensnared by the criminal justice system and away from the retributive model that dictated punishment in the latter half of the twentieth century. The existing scholarship exploring how drug treatment courts function has been largely atheoretical, and past attempts to harmonize theory to drug treatment courts fail to demonstrate how these institutions normalize offenders prior to reintegration into society. Relying on Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality together with his concepts of “technologies of power” and “technologies of the self,” I develop the analytical framework of “therapeutic discipline” as a more robust lens through which to understand the operation of drug treatment courts nationwide. My contribution of “therapeutic discipline” to the existing literature is bolstered by representative examples of qualitative data taken from a long-term, ethnographic study of one adult drug treatment court.

Suggested Citation

Sousa, Michael D., Therapeutic Discipline: Drug Courts, Foucault, and the Power of the Normalizing Gaze (October 2, 2020). 2021 Michigan State Law Review 143 (2021), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-27, Available at SSRN: or

Michael D. Sousa (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics