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Doing Good with a Vengeance: A Critical Assessment of the Practices, Effects and Implications of Drug Treatment Courts in North America

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Volume: 3 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2003 Pages: 227-248
Benedikt Fischer
Date Published
August 2003
22 pages
This article presents a critical assessment of the practices, outcomes, and implications of drug treatment courts.
With the advent of “drug treatment courts” (DTC’s) in the United States in the early 1990’s, the criminal justice system was widely believed to be undergoing a major paradigm shift. With an understanding that the traditional way of dealing with drug offenders was not working, DTC’s were touted as the solution that bridged the gap between traditional punitive justice and the treatment that drug offenders needed. The basic logic behind DTC’s is that they claim to rehabilitate drug offenders, rather than simply punishing them, which is thought to reduce drug abuse, recidivism, and other deleterious social outcomes. DTC’s grew tremendously in popularity and there are now approximately 600 DTC’s in operation across the United States. Canada has recently joined the fold with two new experimental DTC’s in Vancouver and Toronto. The article offers a critique of these DTC’s, with a focus on the Canadian experience, from evaluative, social, and legal perspectives. It identifies the limitations of the evidence and methods driving the DTC’s and the practical challenges of pairing criminal justice with treatment. Also examined are the potential explanations for the popularity of DTC’s despite the limited evidence of their effectiveness. Finally, the article examines how the use of DTC’s in Canada presents implications for the political effort of moving toward less punitive drug control. It is argued that DTC’s assert the hegemony of punitive drug control and thus bolster the legitimacy of prohibition politics. This is at least partly accomplished by a co-opting of treatment strategies by the criminal justice system. References