Thursday, December 16, 2010

Left, Right and Drug Court


Funny how the world turns. When I first started in this business in the early 1990s, drug courts were viewed by many as a liberal response to an increasingly punitive (read: conservative) criminal justice system. By offering defendants treatment in lieu of incarceration, drug courts were a step away from "tough-on-crime" initiatives such as mandatory minimums, three-strikes-and-you're-out, and truth in sentencing legislation. Fast forward to today. Now it appears that the principal criticisms of drug court come from the left. See, for example, this recent piece in The Nation, which criticizes drug courts for requiring guilty pleas and for widening the net of social control. On the flip side is a new conservative criminal justice reform group, Right on Crime, which argues for more drug courts (and more alternatives to incarceration in general) on the grounds that taxpayer spending on corrections has gotten out of control.