Discretionary Justice: Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Discretionary Justice: Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Discretionary Justice: Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Discretionary Justice: Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Synopsis

Juvenile drug courts are on the rise in the United States, as a result of a favorable political climate and justice officials' endorsement of the therapeutic jurisprudence movement--the concept of combining therapeutic care with correctional discipline. The goal is to divert nonviolent youth drug offenders into addiction treatment instead of long-term incarceration. Discretionary Justice overviews the system, taking readers behind the scenes of the juvenile drug court. Based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews at a California court, Leslie Paik explores the staff's decision-making practices in assessing the youths' cases, concentrating on the way accountability and noncompliance are assessed. Using the concept of "workability," Paik demonstrates how compliance, and what is seen by staff as "noncompliance," are the constructed results of staff decisions, fluctuating budgets, and sometimes questionable drug test results.

While these courts largely focus on holding youths responsible for their actions, this book underscores the social factors that shape how staff members view progress in the court. Paik also emphasizes the perspectives of children and parents. Given the growing emphasis on individual responsibility in other settings, such as schools and public welfare agencies, Paik's findings are relevant outside the juvenile justice system.

Excerpt

During its weekly review meeting before court, the staff talks about
Molly, a white sixteen-year-old who has been in the drug court for
two months. While the staff applauds the fact that she went to school
every day, her electronic house-arrest monitoring device shows that
she left the house one night from 11 P.M. until 5 A.M. This is a
major concern for staff since Molly can only leave the house if
accompanied by a parent. A probation officer speculates that she was
out all night with her boyfriend. The drug counselor does not know
what happened since she has not heard Molly’s side of the story.
They debate the validity of the house arrest report until another pro
bation officer asks, “What are we doing with Molly?” The judge
speculates that if Molly was using drugs, she will not bother to show
up today for court. The public defender suggests sending Molly to
juvenile hall for the weekend for staying out all night. When Molly
and her mom appear before the court, the public defender starts the
proceedings by saying she has a home supervision violation for leav
ing the house that night. Molly explains that she was at a friend’s
house, but when pressed further by the judge about whether it was a
girlfriend or a boyfriend, she denies having a boyfriend. The judge
then tells her that she will spend a weekend in juvenile hall and
reminds her to drug test before leaving court that day.

Drug courts like this one are intended to be new types of alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders. No time seems more perfect for such alternatives than now. The devastating effects of mass incarceration largely fueled by the War on Drugs cannot be ignored: communities are destabilized; children grow up without parents; ex-offenders cannot find jobs, housing, or educational opportunities; and the democratic process is compromised by the many ex-offenders who lose their right to vote. The need for drug reform is not simply a moral or political issue: in dire economic times, states can no . . .

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