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America's Problem-Solving Courts

The debate over drug enforcement policy in the United States is almost always framed in stark terms premised on narrow options. Conventional thinking about criminal justice issues—prison, community corrections, probation, or possibly some sort of diversion program for minor offenses and first-time offenders—has not worked, nor has it abated the addiction problem. Drug courts have swept the nation without much debate or input from the criminal defense bar. That input is long overdue.

This Open Society Foundations-supported report seeks to redefine the debate by challenging the fundamental criminal justice lens through which drug-related issues are evaluated. Because "the definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power," accepting the criminal justice paradigm legitimizes drug courts while ignoring other smart, fair, effective, and economical approaches.

The report also summarizes the history and evolution of drug courts, evaluates their operation and effectiveness, makes an overarching recommendation on the treatment of addiction, and offers a number of recommendations to ensure that the procedures and practices in drug court comply with constitutional and ethical norms.

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