Sept. 22, 2014
Colonial America, made up of many small, insular and stable communities, relied heavily on community-based or “alternative’ sanctions to enforce a strict social, economic, and religious code of behavior. While it’s true that some of those sanctions may now be considered unacceptable (i.e., corporal punishment), other forms of alternative sanctions are very much a part of the modern criminal justice system. The use of warnings, servitude, and restoring the victim, may be known by different names today (admonitions, restitution, community service), but share similar functions.
The Church and the Court were at the center of community social control. A trial “was an occasion for repentance and reintegration; a ritual for reclaiming lost sheep and restoring them to the flock”…It was a public, open affirmation of the rules and their enforcement; a kind of divine social theater.”(Lawrence Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, p.25 (1992).
The parallels to the Drug Court and other Problem Solving Courts could not be clearer. Living in a time when society has substantially broken down, where people lead isolated lives and where societal pressure may be minimal, the drug court provides a group structure for the drug user, providing support, rehabilitation, resources, and “community” where none had existed before.
Within that “community”, “alternative” or community-based sanctions have a new found importance. Sitting in the jury box for a day is the equivalent of wearing a dunce cap. The admonition from the judge in front of the drug court community is a shaming that all understand. Most importantly,the rehabilitated drug-user is welcomed back into society at a very public graduation ceremony presided over by the judge and other community leaders (see above)