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Discretionary Justice

Looking Inside a Juvenile Drug Court

Leslie Paik

Publication Year: 2011

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. 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society


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p. v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

The idea for this book began before I started graduate school. In the mid- 1990s I worked at a nonprofit legal organization that designed, implemented, and evaluated drug courts and other problem-solving courts. I saw the value of these courts—helping offenders kick their drug addiction, keeping them out of prison—but I also worried about the courts’ potential Big Brother impact on the offenders with their expectations of behavioral change. As I was ...

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1. Inside the Black Box of Drug Court Justice

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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 ...

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2. Setting and Methods

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pp. 17-27

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 is post-dispositional, meaning the youths already have been “true found” (guilty) on felony-level offenses. The drug court is one of a few noncustodial dispositions such as probation, work programs, and community service that allows youths to ...

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3. What Court Day Is He? Intercourt Variations

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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. ...

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4. Building Accountability through Assessments of Noncompliance

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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 ...

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5. Social Construction of Drug Test Results

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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 longstanding practice in the justice system of monitoring defendants’ drug use through random drug testing. In this light, drug tests can be seen as a ...

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6. It's Not Just His Probation, It's Mine: Parental Involvement in the Drug Court

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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 ...

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7. Youth Trajectories in the Court

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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 ...

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8. The (In)justice of Discretion: Drug Courts as Therapeutic Punishment and Therapeutic Justice

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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 ...

Appendix A: Methods

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pp. 183-189

Appendix B: Concepts and Terms

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pp. 191-192

Appendix C: Additional Resources

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pp. 193-195


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pp. 197-208


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pp. 209-216


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pp. 217-226

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About the Author

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Leslie Paik is an assistant professor of sociology at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center City University of New York. Paik earned her undergraduate degree in literature and society at Brown University ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813550978
E-ISBN-10: 0813550971
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813550060
Print-ISBN-10: 0813550068

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Raymond J. Michalowski See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 769263112
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Discretionary Justice

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Juvenile courts -- California.
  • Juvenile delinquents -- Rehabilitation -- California.
  • Drug courts -- California.
  • Youth -- Drug use -- California.
  • Drug abuse -- Treatment -- Law and legislation -- California.
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