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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Kristen E. DeVall
Doctor of Philosophy
Title: The Theory and Practice of Drug Courts: Wolves in Sheep Clothing?
Dr. Susan Caulfield, Chair
Dr. David Hartmann
Dr. Ronald Kramer
Dr. Larry Tifft
Date: Friday, December 7, 2007 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
3202 Sangren Hall
This dissertation is a case study of an adult drug court in a medium-size midwestern city. The first drug court was implemented in 1989 and, since that time, the number of drug courts across the nation has grown exponentially. The primary impetus behind the creation of the drug court model was a response by criminal justice practitioners to the ever-increasing number of individuals charged with drug-related offenses, the frustration with realization that law enforcement and imprisonment alone were not working to reduce the drug supply or demand, and the partial recognition that the “get tough” approach to crime and the “war on drugs” (as it was being waged) were abysmal failures in “solving” the United States’ drug problem. Drug courts, in essence, represent an integration of a public-health approach and a public-safety strategy of fighting crime and administering “justice.”
The bulk of the extant research regarding drug courts addresses one central question: “Do drug courts work?” Researchers and evaluators alike have attempted to answer this question over the last decade and their results have produced mixed findings. The measures of effectiveness employed by these researchers and evaluators include: recidivism, substance use/abuse, treatment retention, quality of life, financial savings, and case flow efficiency. This dissertation attempts to examine the degree to which drug courts are therapeutic and, therefore, the degree to which they can meet the basic human needs of the program participants. This research makes a unique contribution to existing literature, as it examines the structure and process of the drug court program itself, as opposed to focusing on outcome measures of effectiveness. Data collected from four sources (drug court review hearing observations, interviews with drug court judges, interviews with drug court case managers, and focus groups with drug court participants) are analyzed to determine the extent to which the structure and process of the drug court program meet or do not meet drug court participants’ basic human needs.
The findings of this research suggest that while, in theory, drug courts are designed to meet the individual human needs of the program participants, in practice, drug courts do not recognize nor address the basic human needs of all program participants. Gender differences are highlighted and discussed throughout. A detailed discussion of the findings, the implications of this research for drug court personnel and program participants, the limitations of this research, and suggestions for the direction of future research regarding drug courts are presented.