Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Caulfield


This dissertation is a case study of an adult drug court in a medium-size Midwestern city. The primary impetus behind the creation of the drug court model was the partial recognition that the "get tough" approach to crime and the "war on drugs" was ineffective in "solving the United States' drug problem. Drug courts represent an integration of a public-health approach and a public-safety strategy of fighting crime and administering "justice." The bulk of the extant research regarding drug courts addresses one central question: "Do drug courts work?" Researchers and evaluators alike have attempted to answer this question over the last decade and their results have proved inconclusive. Proponents of the drug court movement assert that drug courts are effective, while opponents have raised additional questions regarding the effectiveness of such programs. The measures of effectiveness most commonly employed include: recidivism, substance use/abuse, treatment retention, quality of life, financial savings, and case flow efficiency.

This dissertation attempts to examine the degree to which drug courts are therapeutic and, therefore, the degree to which they can meet client-participants' basic human needs. This research makes a unique contribution to the existing literature, as it examines the structure and process of the drug court program itself, as opposed to focusing on outcome measures of effectiveness. Data collected from four sources (observations of drug court review hearings, interviews with drug court judges, interviews with drug court case managers, and focus groups with drug court client-participants) are analyzed to assess the extent to which the structure and process of the drug court program meet and/or do not meet the basic human needs of client-participants.

The findings of this research suggest that while, in theory, drug courts are designed to meet the basic human needs of client-participants, in practice, the structure and process of drug courts do not meet the basic human needs of all client-participants. Gender differences are highlighted and discussed throughout. A detailed discussion of the findings, implications of this research for drug court personnel and client-participants, limitations of this research, and suggestions for the direction of future research regarding drug courts are presented.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access