Professor publishes book reinventing criminal justice

As a thought experiment, consider yourself on trial for a drug offence. Your rap sheet is littered with convictions on similar charges. You arrive at court filled with trepidation. Instead of proceeding as usual however, the presiding judge offers you an alternative to continuing with the normal adjudication process: you may instead opt to take part in a court-monitored treatment program in an attempt to clean up your act.

Choosing the treatment option will initiate you into a new path taken by the drug courts. You will be expected to attend regularly scheduled court meetings to participate in drug tests, and to evaluate your progress. The rewards for sticking with the program range from judicial praise to balloons, mugs and candy. Slipping back into drug abuse will probably earn you a sharp admonition from the presiding judge, and additional court dates.

America’s drug courts are the subject of Reinventing Justice: The American Drug Court Movement, by James L. Nolan, Jr., assistant professor of sociology. In it, Nolan investigates the growing drug court phenomenon in the United States. He considers the intended as well as unexpected consequences of therapeutic jurisprudence: for example, behavior undergoes a pathological reinterpretation, guilt is discredited, and the client’s life story and ability to convince the judge of a willingness to change take on a new importance. By placing drug courts within the historical context of drug control in the United States, and making use of extensive field work undertaken in currently existing drug courts, the book seeks to understand the drug court movement and its implications for the contemporary definition of justice.

Nolan first wrote about drug courts in his 1998 book The Therapeutic State: Justifying Government at Century’s End. The research that provides the foundations of his current book was funded by a 1999 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is currently focusing on an investigation into the expansion of drug courts from the United States to United Kingdom.

He has received numerous awards in support of his work including the Fulbright Scholarship for 1999-2000 and an Oakley Fellowship in 2000.

Nolan has taught at Williams since 1996. He received his B.A. from the University of California, Davis, and his Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of Virginia.

In addition to his books, Nolan is the author of a number of articles and chapters that have appeared in sociological journals and edited volumes.