Academic journal article Justice System Journal

CASE DISPOSITION IN THE DRUG COURT: WHO Is THE MOST CENTRAL ACTOR?*

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

CASE DISPOSITION IN THE DRUG COURT: WHO Is THE MOST CENTRAL ACTOR?*

Article excerpt

In recent years, the number of drug courts has proliferated throughout the country. One widely held belief is that the central figure in a drug court is the judge. While the judge may be the central actor in the courtroom, what is not clear is whether the drug court judge is the most central actor in the actual disposition of cases. This article presents the findings of a research project that asked actors participating in staffing about the centrality of the drug court judge. I found that while the drug court judge is a central actor, the most central actor in the drug court case disposition process is likely determined by management tasks and responsibility levels assigned to actors participating in the process.

"Drug treatment courts" or "drug courts" are specialized criminal courts designed to handle drug cases - misdemeanors or felonies - involving mostly nonviolent offenders with substance abuse and dependence problems (Hora, Schma, and Rosenthal, 1999; Hora, 2002; Nolan, 2001; Whiteacre, 2008). Some scholars maintain that drug courts and other specialized courts such as community courts, domestic violence or family courts, and mental health courts became popular in part because of courts' inability to address persistent public frustration with social, human, and legal problems such as drug addiction, domestic violence, and mental illness facing society (see, e.g., Feinblatt, Berman, and Deckla, 2002). However, other scholars argue that these problem- solving courts, especially drug courts, were initially created to address the criminal justice system's inability to resolve problems associated with backlog of drug cases awaiting trials, the "revolving door" of drug arrestees, emergence and popularity of "crack" cocaine, and failures of probation or parole in helping reduce drug court cases (Armstrong, 2008; Hora, 2002; Nolan, 2001; Terry, 1999).

The first drug court was created in Miami in 1989 (Hora, Schma, and Rosenthal, 1999; Terry, 1999). Regardless of the rationales for their creation, drug courts have become very popular in recent years. This is due to the recognition by both scholars and practitioners that previous methods for addressing drug use, such as interdiction and tough sentencing laws, have failed to stem the rise in illegal drug use and crime (Nolan, 2001; Olson, Lurigio, and Albertson, 2001). When drug courts were first created, there were no universally acceptable theoretical or jurisprudential rationales for their creation (Hora, Schma, and Rosenthal, 1999; Nolan 2001). But drug court advocates and criminal justice scholars later discovered that drug courts mostly embody the ideals of a new criminal justice model referred to as "therapeutic jurisprudence"1 (Hora, 2002; Winick and Wexler, 2003). This discovery created a symbiotic relationship between scholars and practitioners whereby each side relied on the other's work to build institutional support and popularity for their work (Hora, 2002) . Thus, the number of drug courts has substantially increased in recent years, going from 41 drug courts in 1994 when President Clinton signed a crime bill that for the first time includ' ed grants for drug courts (Armstrong, 2008), to 2,301 operating drug courts as of December 31, 2008 (NADCR 2009).

What is frequently referred to as a drug court is in fact a "drug court team," or a network of individual organizations represented by a judge, lawyers, probation officers, and representatives from external organizations (Nolan, 2001; Terry, 1999). The roles and functions of each sponsoring organization, as represented by individuals, vary. The judge represents the bench as a sponsoring organization consisting of judges and various court administrators. The lawyers either represent the county prosecutor's office, the public defender's office, or the private bar. The probation officers represent the probation department. Separately, drug treatment centers have their own representatives also participating as members of the drug court team (Terry, 1999). …

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