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'Doing good with a vengeance': a critical assessment of the practice, effects and implications of 'drug treatment courts' in North America


Fischer, B (2003). 'Doing good with a vengeance': a critical assessment of the practice, effects and implications of 'drug treatment courts' in North America. Criminal Justice History, 3(3):227-248.

Abstract

`Drug treatment courts' (DTCs) are a new institution in North American criminal justice for dealing with drug offenders. There are currently two DTC pilot trials in implementation in Canada. Based on a `therapeutic jurisprudence' approach, DTCs claim to rehabilitate rather than punish drug-addicted offenders, and thus to reduce drug use, recidivism and social cost. Given the current enthusiasm about DTCs, this article provides a critique of DTCs' rationale, practices and implications from evaluative, social and legal perspectives. It focuses on the Canadian experience where possible. The analysis examines: the limitations of the evidence and methods behind the claims of DTCs' effectiveness; the ontological and practical challenges of the proposed `bridging' of punishment and treatment; the legal and penological implications of `therapeutic jurisprudence' practices; as well as potential explanations for DTCs' rise in popularity despite the limited evidence for their positive impact. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of DTCs for the government of drug use as deviance in contemporary social contexts, as well as for political efforts towards less punitive drug control. DTCs may reinforce the hegemony of punitive drug use control—partly by coopting treatment strategies—and thus fundamentally protect the legitimacy of prohibition politics.

Abstract

`Drug treatment courts' (DTCs) are a new institution in North American criminal justice for dealing with drug offenders. There are currently two DTC pilot trials in implementation in Canada. Based on a `therapeutic jurisprudence' approach, DTCs claim to rehabilitate rather than punish drug-addicted offenders, and thus to reduce drug use, recidivism and social cost. Given the current enthusiasm about DTCs, this article provides a critique of DTCs' rationale, practices and implications from evaluative, social and legal perspectives. It focuses on the Canadian experience where possible. The analysis examines: the limitations of the evidence and methods behind the claims of DTCs' effectiveness; the ontological and practical challenges of the proposed `bridging' of punishment and treatment; the legal and penological implications of `therapeutic jurisprudence' practices; as well as potential explanations for DTCs' rise in popularity despite the limited evidence for their positive impact. The article concludes with reflections on the implications of DTCs for the government of drug use as deviance in contemporary social contexts, as well as for political efforts towards less punitive drug control. DTCs may reinforce the hegemony of punitive drug use control—partly by coopting treatment strategies—and thus fundamentally protect the legitimacy of prohibition politics.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:drug;treatment
Language:English
Date:2003
Deposited On:13 May 2014 13:17
Last Modified:07 Aug 2017 04:21
Publisher:Crime and Justice History Group distributed by John Jay Press
ISSN:0194-0953
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/14668025030033001

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