Drug Courts May Invite a New - and Surprising - Type of Therapeutic Alliance

Study of barriers that hinder collaboration between drug courts and the substance abuse treatment system

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals commissioned an observational study of the interaction of drug court judges with offenders and jurors.

Drug courts were first established in Miami, Fla., in 1989 as a way to divert nonviolent, drug-abusing offenders to court-supervised drug treatment.

The principal investigator observed 15 courtrooms on site or by film and interviewed 23 judges in person or by telephone to inquire about:

  • Their impressions of their relationship with drug court participants
  • The models and framework that guide their practice
  • Their understanding of addiction.

Key Findings

Preliminary observations based on the study's small, nonrepresentative sample revealed:

  • Although there are a wide variety of courtroom environments and styles of proceedings, judges share similar views as to their roles.
  • Interviews with the judges suggested that drug court processes were often dictated more by workload than by judges' conceptions of how a drug court should be run.
  • Judges also indicated that they valued the relationship between themselves and the defendant.

An article on the study was published in the first edition of the National Drug Court Institute Review, a professional journal for drug court personnel.

Funding

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a grant of $54,520 from March 1997 to February 1998 to support this project.