A Therapeutic Path Through Drug Court

By Sonya Sadjadi, CFCC Student Fellow 2015-2016
As a Student Fellow at the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (“CFCC”),1 I have explored many components of problem-solving courts. Problem-solving courts operate through something called “therapeutic jurisprudence.”2 Therapeutic jurisprudence is “the belief that families and children deserve an effective and efficient court system that aims to improve their lives.”3 Through a holistic approach lens,4 therapeutic jurisprudence looks at the law as a therapeutic path. Problem-solving courts take a holistic approach to cases by assessing the defendant’s various problems. One type of problem-solving court is a drug court.

“Drug courts represent the coordinated efforts of criminal justice agencies, behavioral health, social services and the treatment community to actively and forcefully intervene and break the cycle of substance abuse, addiction, and crime.”5 The court considers the perpetrator’s life outside of the crime. The judge finds the best recourse by assessing any underlying problems the individual may be experiencing. Through a shallow investigation into the defendant’s life, the court can identify any needs or resources the individual may require. Similarly, Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court (“DTC”) conducts its courtrooms through a holistic lens in an effort to reduce recidivism by taking into consideration different parts of the defendant’s whole life.

On October 21, 2015, our CFCC Student Fellows Program class visited the DTC. The DTC’s main goal is rehabilitation, not the more traditional path of punishment.6 The “court plays an integral role in monitoring [a] defendant’s progress in treatment [and provides] individualized, but intensive and structured, treatment programs.”7 The DTC we visited was conducted using a team-based approach, which consisted of the judge, defense attorney, prosecutor, and social worker; members of the team sought to identify different factors affecting the defendant’s life. These included, but were not limited to, the defendant’s lifestyle, socioeconomic status, job, family, addictions, etc. Because the purpose is to promote rehabilitation rather than to punish, the court considered a variety of factors before identifying the best alternatives for the individual defendant. For example, the defendants were subject to various types of drug testing, but they were not necessarily punished for a relapse. If the defendant was on the right track, the courtroom, including the judge, clapped for the individual and placed his/her name on the chalkboard labeled “A Team.” Being recognized for their success was so rewarding, especially for individuals who may have never been rewarded before. For some people, this success might seem minor, but in actuality it was quite a major achievement.

One defendant in particular stood out to me. He complied with drug testing and with community service so well that the treatment provider with which he was working requested that he stay longer. The judge noted that this request was very uncommon. The judge, however, noticed a trend in the defendant’s history, where the defendant relapsed the same time every year. The judge warned the defendant that that date was approaching, and he feared the defendant might relapse again. The judge recommended that the defendant look into his own history to find what may be the underlying cause for his repeated relapse. In so doing, the judge used a non-adversarial approach8 to help the defendant. He was not waiting for the defendant to relapse; instead he wanted to guide the individual to avoid it, if possible. It was obvious the judge found that relapse was unusual for the individual and that punishment would not fit the crime. The close relationship formed by the team-based approach allowed the team to speak freely about any concerns or advice they had for the defendant.9 This exemplified another way the DTC differs from the adversarial approach in traditional courts.10 In the DTC, the court seeks to find the source of the defendant’s problems to assess, rehabilitate, and guide him/her to a relapse-free future. Thus, the DTC’s less adversarial, 11 more therapeutic approach illustrates rehabilitation rather than punishment.


1 http://law.ubalt.edu/centers/cfcc/

2 http://law.ubalt.edu/centers/cfcc/whoweare/index.cfm

3 Id.

4 Supra note 1.

5 http://law.ubalt.edu/centers/cfcc/images/CFCC%20spring%202015%20newsletter.pdf

6 http://mdcourts.gov/opsc/dtc/

7 Id.

8 Id.

9 Id.

10 Id.

11 Id.

2 thoughts on “A Therapeutic Path Through Drug Court

  1. I really enjoyed the visit to the Drug Treatment Court as well. It was great to see the Court in action and see the collaboration that takes place in an effort to help the defendants resolve their issues and return home to their families.

  2. Amanda,

    Absolutely! The experience was much different then what I had observed in the more “traditional” courts.


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