'Drug Treatment Courts' -- Visionary Innovation or 'New Penology" for Drug Offenders?

Benedikt Fischer, University of Toronto

'Drug Treatment Courts' (DTCs) are receiving enthusiastic support as a criminal justice innovation for drug offenders. Following the US model, Canada is now also home to two DTC pilot projects. By utilizing the mechanics of 'therapeutic jurisprudence', they set out to replace punishment with treatment, and thus reduce drug use, drug crime and public expenditures related to drug offenders. Upon closer look, DTCs present challenges from scientific, socio-political and legal perspectives. The DTC rationale projects an image of the 'offender/patient' that oddly fluctuates between assumptions of 'diseased' and 'criminal'. Research into the outcomes of DTCs is often burdened with design flaws and unable to demonstrate evidence for superior effectiveness of these institutions. While possibly reducing the use of carceral punishment per se, DTC are employing a variety of other tools of social and behavioral sanctions, control and surveillance with the offender. DTCs practices also pose substantial challenges to principles of 'due process' and the adversarial structure of justice. The paper will close with questions about the 'real' forces behind the push for DTCs, specifically in the Canadian context. It will be proposed that the main function of DTCs is not a therapeutic or programmatic but a political one.

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Updated 05/20/2006