center for sustainable justice

Drug Courts

In the 80th judges in the United States came to the conclusion that justice was simply a link in the chain of the persistent problem of drug-related crime, instead of being a tool to solve the problem. A Drug Court was established in Miami, Florida in 1989, to change this. After a guilty plea suspects are placed in a training program under the supervision of the Drug Court, which is aimed at treating all aspects of the personal situation of the suspect that contributed to his or her criminal behavior. A permanently appointed Drug Court judge monitors the progress of the suspects/participants throughout the entire project (one and a half years on average) by having them appear before him or her regularly. The Drug Court is in direct contact with all social partner organizations involved in the process, which means that everyone is aware of the development of the participants. The Drug Court judge rewards participants that try their best over an extended period of time. Rewards are given to participants that do well in the program, while sanctions are imposed by the judge on participants that relapse. When there is serious doubt about the commitment of a participant the court may impose detention of a few hours or days during which time the participant must reflect on his or her commitment to the training program. The ultimate sanction is expulsion from the Drug Court program after which the matter is referred to the regular criminal court. Upon successful completion of the program participants are awarded Graduation Certificates (instead of criminal records) during a ceremony, along with heartfelt congratulations (often a hug) from the judge. Participants will then have built an ecosystem in society that enables them to participate independently as law abiding citizens and his or her addiction will have been resolved or become manageable by then.
Drug Courts work without a delay: immediately after a suspect has been arrested it is verified whether the person is eligible for the Drug Court program. Treatment commences immediately when the suspect agrees to that.

Since the Drug Court system appears to be working well a few more types of specialized courts (Problem Solving Courts) have been established in which the same system is applied. There are currently 2,559 Drug Courts in operation in the United States[1]. Mental Health Courts, Homeless Courts, Re-entry Courts, Family Violence Courts, Veteran Courts, and Juvenile Courts all use comparable systems. There are currently 1219 of the other forms of Problem Solving Courts operational in the United States[2]. The Problem Solving Court system has been expanded to include Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England and Australia[3].

These specialized courts are examples of Sustainable Justice. For Drug Courts this is the case because judicial power is applied to support addicted repeat offenders to overcome his or her addiction and to help that person to build a supportive ecosystem in society. Justice is exclusively used in a constructive manner for participants and society, and the risk of recidivism is minimized through the application of justice, which makes society safer and improves the quality of the social ecosystem.
A dissertation by Suzan Verberk recently appeared entitled ’Probleemoplossend strafrecht en het ideaal van responsieve rechtspraak’[4] (Problem-Solving Criminal Justice and the Ideal of Responsive Courts), which contains a detailed description of the Drug Court system and a recommendation of the author for the establishment of a Drug Court chamber in criminal courts in the Netherlands.

[1] (gezien op 2011-05-07)

[2] See note 1.

[3] King et al. 2009, page 143.

[4]Verberk Suzan 2011, Probleemoplossend strafrecht en het ideaal van responsieve rechtspraak, Sdu Uitgevers, Den Haag.