The Role of the Judge: Procedural Fairness and Drug-Treatment Courts
The factors that make up a successful Drug Treatment Court (DTC) are diverse, but the emerging research demonstrates, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the interaction between a judge and a participant is central to that success. The bond between participant and judge is not solely dependent upon the judge’s personality but rather upon the nature of that judge-participant relationship.
Being More Effective
Making DTCs more effective requires focusing on the role that the judge plays:
“First, even though we find that the judge has a prime role in shaping participant behavior, we note that drug courts do not necessarily maximize the potential of the judge—as many drug courts engage in practices (such as rotating judges or having multiple drug court judges) that would be expected to diminish judicial effectiveness. And finally, although other theoretical mechanisms were not shown here to be effective at modifying behavior, a substantial body of literature supports many of the underlying premises of deterrence and treatment motivation and eagerness. Thus, it is probably fair to conclude that if drug courts used these mechanisms more effectively, drug court results likely would be even better.”
Thus the question is no longer, “Does the judge’s relationship with a DTC participant affect that participant’s success?” But rather, “What are the best ways for a judge to build a connection with the participant so that successful outcomes are maximized?” It’s increasingly clear that the answer is the adoption of the four principles of procedural fairness and their active application in review sessions.
The Four Principles
These four principles are voice, neutrality, respectful treatment and trustworthy authorities.
- Voice is the personalized experience of appearing before and speaking to a judge in court. It appears to have a powerful effect on drug court participants. Participants discussed being extremely nervous before court appearances, particularly when they anticipated sanctions or reprimand, and about the sense of satisfaction they experienced when they received positive feedback from the judge.
- Neutrality is taking steps to promote a fair court experience, and having a judge who can serve as an effective symbol of the court’s commitment to fairness. Neutrality and respect can improve concrete offender outcomes.
- Respectful treatment requires a judge who treats clients fairly and respectively.
Trustworthy authority meaning authorities that are benevolent, caring, and sincerely trying to help the litigants. The judge garners trust by listening to individuals and by explaining or justifying decisions that address the litigants’ needs.
Applying the four principles of procedural fairness reduces drug use, crimes committed and probation violations. For a DTC to be successful, a judge must provide participants with an opportunity to voice their concerns and a sense that they’re treated with respect by a neutral and trustworthy authority. The combined effect of the four principles of procedural fairness leads DTC participants to respond in a way that creates greater success. The success that these participants find in the courtroom transmutes into societal success which reduces crime and decreases costs borne by taxpayers. This is the community-wide impact of procedural fairness.
This blog post is taken from a longer in-depth article on procedural fairness that can be found here.
SHELLI B. ROSSMAN ET AL., 4 THE MULTI-SITE ADULT DRUG COURT EVALUATION: THE IMPACT OF DRUG COURTS note 10 at 212 (2011).
 ROSSMAN ET AL., supra note 10, at 117
 ROSSMAN ET AL., supra note 10, at 212
 Judge Brian MacKenzie, The Judge Is the Key Component:
The Importance of Procedural Fairness in Drug-Treatment Courts at 9-10 http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/pdfs/judge-key-component.pdf (2015)
ROSSMAN ET AL., supra note 97 at 97 (2011).
ROSSMAN ET AL., supra note 10, at 212