Drug Courts and the Reconstitution of the Courtroom Workgroup

Corey Colyer, University of Michigan

Introduction and Statement of the Research Question

Therapeutic Jurisprudence emerged in the 1980's as a new paradigm in crime prevention. Drawing on the tradition of legal realism (Frank 1930; Holmes 1897; Pound 1942), therapeutic jurisprudence attempts to use the court apparatus to induce social change. Drawing on the authority of the a Judge and the therapeutic expertise of social workers, counselors, and mental health treatment professionals, the approach harnesses the coercive power of the State to deliver treatment services to populations traditionally unreached by therapeutic services (Hora, Schma and Rosenthal 1999). Its advocates claim that therapeutic jurisprudence humanizes justice and combats social problems at their roots while the critics suggest that Judges should not be in the business of social work. The concept, a fundamental element of the popular drug court movement, has also contributed to the emergence of treatment-oriented family and juvenile courts. A dimension often overlooked in the discussion on therapeutic jurisprudence concerns the changes it brings to the ecological dimensions in the courtroom itself. By introducing "the therapeutic" as an authoritative professional knowledge base, new professional actors and stakeholders are brought into the court. More than 20 years ago, James Eisenstein and Herbert Jacob (Eisenstein and Jacob 1977) developed a theory of courtroom workgroups. Using qualitative case studies, they showed that the particulars in disposition of criminal cases are largely dependent on a series of local factors, including the constellation of actors in the courtroom and the orientations of their sponsoring agencies. Research studies building on that model show how backstage maneuvering of these participant actors can lead to vastly different outcomes across jurisdictions. This paper, drawing on a rich body of field data collected at a drug court over the course of three years, seeks to apply the courtroom work group model to therapeutic jurisprudence. It sketches the constitution of a particular "drug court work group" which I compare to the traditional model. I present Narrative data to illustrate how the workgroup divides labor and contributes to the overall objective of the court. The paper adds to the literature on both drug courts and therapeutic jurisprudence by drawing analytic attention to dimensions of the process that are not often subjected to scholarly consideration.

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Updated 05/20/2006