Contraindicated Drug Courts


Over the past two decades, drug treatment courts have gained traction as popular alternatives to the conventional war on drugs and to its one-dimensional focus on incarceration. Specifically, the courts are meant to divert addicts from jails and prisons and into coerced treatment. Under the typical model, a drug offender enters a guilty plea and is enrolled in a long-term outpatient treatment program that is supervised closely by the drug court. If the offender completes treatment, his plea is withdrawn and the underlying charges are dismissed. But, if he fails, he receives an alternative termination sentence. The premise of this Article is that drug courts provide particularly poor results for the very defendants that they are intended to help most. Specifically, the most likely participants to graduate are volitional drug users, who strategically game exit from undesired conventional punishment and entry into treatment that they, in fact, do not need. By contrast, the most likely treatment failures are genuine addicts and members of historically disadvantaged groups, who thereafter receive harsh termination sentences that often outstrip conventional plea prices. In short, drug courts are contraindicated for target populations and may thereby lead to longer sentences for the very defendants who traditionally have filled prisons under the conventional war on drugs.

About the Author

Bigelow Fellow and Lecturer in Law, University of Chicago Law School

By uclalaw