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Discretionary Justice

Discretionary Justice: Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Leslie Paik
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Discretionary Justice
    Book Description:

    Juvenile drug courts are on the rise in the United States, as a result of a favorable political climate and justice officials' endorsement of the therapeutic jurisprudence movement--the concept of combining therapeutic care with correctional discipline. The goal is to divert nonviolent youth drug offenders into addiction treatment instead of long-term incarceration. Discretionary Justice overviews the system, taking readers behind the scenes of the juvenile drug court. Based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews at a California court, Leslie Paik explores the staff's decision-making practices in assessing the youths' cases, concentrating on the way accountability and noncompliance are assessed. Using the concept of "workability," Paik demonstrates how compliance, and what is seen by staff as "noncompliance," are the constructed results of staff decisions, fluctuating budgets, and sometimes questionable drug test results.

    While these courts largely focus on holding youths responsible for their actions, this book underscores the social factors that shape how staff members view progress in the court. Paik also emphasizes the perspectives of children and parents. Given the growing emphasis on individual responsibility in other settings, such as schools and public welfare agencies, Paik's findings are relevant outside the juvenile justice system.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5097-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Inside the Black Box of Drug Court Justice
    (pp. 1-16)

    Drug courts like this one are intended to be new types of alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders. No time seems more perfect for such alternatives than now. The devastating effects of mass incarceration largely fueled by the War on Drugs cannot be ignored: communities are destabilized; children grow up without parents; ex-offenders cannot find jobs, housing, or educational opportunities; and the democratic process is compromised by the many ex-offenders who lose their right to vote.² The need for drug reform is not simply a moral or political issue: in dire economic times, states can no longer afford to keep...

  5. Chapter 2 Setting and Methods
    (pp. 17-27)

    The juvenile drug court’s overarching goal to teach accountability to the youths is not an easy task. Rather, it is a complex process for staff that involves gathering information from various external agencies and negotiating how to interpret it. Youth accountability—as found in the juvenile drug court—depends on the youths themselves, as well as many institutional actors, work routines, and organizational contingencies.

    With its unique countywide model, the juvenile drug court in this study opened in 1998 with the ability to handle up to 150 youths at any given time.¹ As with many other drug courts, this one...

  6. Chapter 3 What Court Day Is He? Intercourt Variations
    (pp. 28-40)

    To illustrate the social construction of youth noncompliance, this chapter takes an in-depth look at one structural factor that impacts the drug court staff’s assessments of youth noncompliance: the youth’s assignment to one of the program’s three court parts. These court parts meet on Tuesdays (east county), Wednesdays (north county), or Thursdays (south county), and youths are assigned based on where they live. In principle, the youth’s court assignment should not have any effect on the staff assessments of youth noncompliance, which are supposed to be based on the actions of the individual youths. Moreover, the three courts are part...

  7. Chapter 4 Building Accountability through Assessments of Noncompliance
    (pp. 41-75)

    The staff’s ideas about youth accountability are constructed from its weekly discussions about several kinds of youth behaviors. How does the staff’s attention to “any little thing” relate to youth accountability? The staff can seize upon—and often counts on—the instances of youths missing drug treatment, failing a drug test, skipping school, or being late for curfew to teach them about accountability, which the staff defines as holding the youths responsible for their actions. So the “therapeutic” orientation of the drug court staff is not just about connecting youths to drug treatment programs; it is to monitor the youths’...

  8. Chapter 5 Social Construction of Drug Test Results
    (pp. 76-98)

    While the drug court staff spends a significant amount of time evaluating youth actions in the school, home, and drug treatment programs, drug testing remains the staff’s principal measuring stick of noncompliance and accountability. This reliance on drug tests reflects a long-standing practice in the justice system of monitoring defendants’ drug use through random drug testing. In this light, drug tests can be seen as a contemporary intersection of science and law. A positive drug test result “proves” peoples’ guilt or criminality because they were supposed to abstain from any drug use as part of their court obligations. Courts no...

  9. Chapter 6 It’s Not Just His Probation, It’s Mine: Parental Involvement in the Drug Court
    (pp. 99-127)

    In negotiating the extent and severity of youths’ noncompliant behaviors when deciding to hold youths accountable, the juvenile drug court staff commonly encountered the following dilemma: what to do when family members prevent their own children from staying in compliance. For example, staff expected families to help youths stay in compliance with the court’s rules (e.g., make them go to school and treatment), but many parents occasionally asked their children stay home to babysit their younger siblings instead. While staff debated who to hold responsible in those situations—the parents or the youths—legally it could only punish the youths....

  10. Chapter 7 Youth Trajectories in the Court
    (pp. 128-171)

    Staff works with youths for a long time, rarely giving up on them. For example, Claire, a seventeen-year-old white female in the east court, recently turned herself in after being on the run for six of the seven months that she has been in the court. In discussing her case during a staff meeting, Jerry, a drug counselor, suspects Claire, who is now in juvenile hall, is coming down from methamphetamine use. Weber, the judge, responds that while Claire has “pretty much been AWOL,” she hopes Claire will “jump on board soon.” On the one hand, the fact that the...

  11. Chapter 8 The (In)justice of Discretion: Drug Courts as Therapeutic Punishment and Therapeutic Justice
    (pp. 172-182)

    The future for drug courts in the United States appears bright. They have achieved widespread support among liberal and conservative policy makers alike, as well as many academics who study drug policy. Advocates applaud the courts’ potential to reduce the prison population and to provide drug treatment to a previously underserved population of drug users. Drug courts are being incorporated into state drug policies across the country, including New York, where the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms passed in 2009, earmarking $50 million to expand the existing 175 drug courts in the state. On the federal level, the Office of National...

  12. Appendix A Methods
    (pp. 183-190)
  13. Appendix B Concepts and Terms
    (pp. 191-192)
  14. Appendix C Additional Resources
    (pp. 193-196)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 197-208)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-216)
  17. Index
    (pp. 217-226)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-228)