Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement

Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement

Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement

Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement


Drug courts offer radically new ways to deal with the legal and social problems presented by repeat drug offenders, often dismissing criminal charges as an incentive for participation in therapeutic programs. Since the first drug court opened in 1989 in Florida, close to 600 have been established throughout the United States. Although some observers have questioned their efficacy, no one until now has constructed an overall picture of the drug court phenomenon and its place in an American history of the social control of drugs. Here James Nolan examines not only how therapeutic strategies deviate from traditional judiciary proceedings, but also how these differences reflect changes afoot in American culture and conceptions of justice.

Nolan draws upon extensive fieldwork to analyze a new type of courtroom drama in which the judge engages directly and regularly with the defendant-turned-client, lawyers play a reduced and less adversarial role, and treatment providers exert unprecedented influence in determining judicially imposed sanctions. The author considers the intended as well as unexpected consequences of therapeutic jurisprudence: for example, behavior undergoes a pathological reinterpretation, guilt is discredited, and the client's life story and ability to convince the judge of his or her willingness to change take on a new importance. Nolan finds that, fueled in part by the strength of therapeutic sensibilities in American culture, the drug court movement continues to expand and advances with it new understandings of the meaning and practice of justice.


The history of punishment can serve as a lens to
illuminate major cultural changes in a society.

—Myra C. Glenn

ONE OF THE MORE interesting and too often overlooked figures in American maritime history is Uriah P. Levy, an enigmatic nineteenth-century Jewish naval officer. Variously described by historians as “pugnacious,” “controversial,” and “flamboyant,” Levy was an anomaly for his time. Few Jews in the early nineteenth century were naval officers. Fewer still rose to the rank of Captain. Uriah Levy’s colorful career as a sailor included fighting in the War of 1812, chasing pirates in the Caribbean, surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Honduras, challenging and killing a man in a duel, and saving the life of a fellow U.S. sailor in a Rio de Janiero street brawl. For his heroism in the latter episode and his overall reputation as an exceptional seaman, the Emperor of Brazil offered Levy command of a new sixty-gun Brazilian frigate. Ever the uncompromising American loyalist, Levy turned down the offer claiming that he would “rather serve in the American Navy as a cabin boy than as a captain in any other service in the world.” A great admirer of Thomas Jefferson, not only did Levy procure and donate to the U.S. government a statue of the nation’s third president, but he purchased Monticello from the debt ridden descendants of Jefferson in 1836 and sought thereafter to restore the beleaguered two hundred-acre estate. His mother, Rachel Levy, is buried on the site, which remained in the Levy family until it was purchased by the Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923.

But Levy is perhaps most famous neither for his devotion to Jefferson and curatorial care of Monticello nor for his successes in American maritime, but for the unusual forms of discipline he employed on the ships he commanded. In fact, Levy viewed as among his greatest accomplishments his role in ridding the U.S. Navy of corporal punishment. On his tombstone it is recorded, as directed by his will, “Father of the law for the abolition of the barbarous practice of corporal punishment in the United States Navy.” During his life, Levy was known for his opposition to corporal punishment, but he was even better known for the alternative forms of punishment that he imposed. Curiously, in his attempts to stamp out corporal punishment, Commodore Levy reverted to forms of discipline more typical of the colonial period.

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