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Innovation and Discretion: The Drug Court as a People-Processing Institution

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 18 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 313-329
Date Published
September 2007
17 pages

Based on observational data obtained over a 2-year period, this article describes the ways in which drug courts process program participants, with a focus on the challenges faced by drug court staff in guiding new program participants into treatment.


The court-related observations show that drug-court staff and advocates are enthusiastic about how offenders are processed because they believe it is consistent with the nature and causes of substance abuse and how drug-related behaviors can be changed, along with drug-related criminal behavior. This is done through a collaborative, more than an adversarial process that focuses on how best to address the needs and problems of the offender. Still, defense attorneys are involved in order to ensure that due process rights of drug-court participants are protected in the course of applying sanctions designed to ensure compliance with treatment. Further, coercive treatment must be careful not to give the client the impression that the court is more interested in punishing them for failure than in helping them achieve success in treatment. The causes of failure must be addressed in ways that increase the chance of success. Failure is not always the fault of the client; it may also reside in the failure of the treatment protocol to tailor itself to the specific needs and characteristics of a client. People processing in the drug court consists of locating appropriate defendants for participation, making an adequate diagnosis, locating compatible treatment, and constructively managing and maintaining the participant once placed. 12 notes and 40 references

Date Published: September 1, 2007