Framed within the sociology of knowledge, my dissertation examines the social and historical significance of coerced drug treatment within the criminal justice system. Drug Courts, where individual arrested for drug-related offenses are mandated to drug treatment instead of prison, serve as a case study to explore how seemingly contradictory perspectives on substance use – medical and punitive – are merged to justify increased criminal justice oversight of defendants who are defined as both “sick” and “bad.” I draw on an analysis of drug court organizational documents and interviews with key advocates to examine the punitive, therapeutic and medical knowledge drug court proponents rely upon and construct to justify an increased role for the courts in solving the problem of addiction. I also link these theories to broader discussions about the causes of crime and the courts’ role in solving social problems to show how drug courts, with their persistent concern for containing and controlling deviance, greatly resemble their historical predecessors. I conclude that the disease designation obscures the racial homogeneity of the drug users who come under the criminal justice system’s purview and facilitates increased social control of these individuals in the name of helping, rather than solely, punishing them. Overall, I provide (1) a framework for understanding drug courts, and other criminal justice innovations, within the historical trajectory of reformers’ attempts to define, contain and control deviance, in general, and substance use in particular and (2) a deeper understanding of the overlap between the medicalization and criminalization of social problems, often conceptualized as opposing rather than complementary processes.

, , ,
B. Katz Rothman (Barbara)
Erasmus University Rotterdam , City University of New York
Dissertations (UL)
RePub (University Library)

Tiger, R. (2008, January). Drug Courts and Coerced Treatment: the social construction of "enlightened coercion". Dissertations (UL). Retrieved from