The Politics of Problem-Solving: An Overview of the Origins and Development of Therapeutic Courts

Candace C. McCoy, Rutgers University

All court reform movements have the goal of solving some problem. A century ago, juvenile courts were instituted to solve the problems of underclass youth. More recently, sentencing reform was designed to solve the problem of punishment disparities. These examples advise caution in building new models of court functioning such as that advocated by the contemporary therapeutic courts movement. Using the example of the growth of drug courts, this law review article is a content analysis of abstracts on drug courts held in the Gottfredson Library at Rutgers University. It is clear that drug courts began as an organizational adaptation responding to case overload caused by the War on Drugs and mandatory sentencing. Only later did a quasi-evangelical therapeutic model emerge, and later still a call to reformulate the roles of court professionals such as judges and defense attorneys. The drug court model spread because of a highly successful transfer of technology and funding from the federal government. When this funding shrinks, local courts will have to make hard choices about exactly what problems can be solved and how far the traditional model of a due-process-providing court should be supplanted with a therapeutic model, as opposed to renewed support for traditional social services.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006