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Drug Courts: A Conceptual Framework

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 31 Issue: 1 Dated: Winter 2001 Pages: 7-26
Date Published
20 pages

This article describes existing approaches to the description of drug court structure and process and argues that a new approach is needed.


The best-known conceptualization of drug courts may be the "ten components" specified by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. These include, for example, frequent drug/alcohol testing, ongoing interaction between judge and participants, and prompt identification and placement of eligible offenders. The components offer a systematic view of drug court structure and process; however, their purpose is prescriptive; they are a minimum set of precepts that any drug court should follow. They are not a framework for assessing alternative drug court models when each model is congruent with the 10 components. The conceptual framework proposed by the current article has five dimensions: leverage, population severity, program intensity, predictability, and rehabilitation emphasis. The first two dimensions -- leverage and population severity -- are structural characteristics of drugs courts. Leverage refers to the nature of consequences faced by incoming participants if they later fail to meet program requirements and are discharged from the drug court. Population severity refers to characteristics of offenders deemed eligible to enter drug court. The other three dimensions are process characteristics. They describe what happens to participants as they proceed through the drug court program. In developing the framework, the authors aim to make explicit a set of structural and procedural precepts implied in the emerging criminal justice perspective known as "therapeutic jurisprudence." In this perspective, formalistic application of the law is de-emphasized, and greater attention is given to the consequences of legal decisions and procedures. 1 table and 33 references

Date Published: January 1, 2001