Judging Addicts

Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System

208 pages

December, 2012

ISBN: 9780814784068



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Rebecca Tiger is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College and co-editor of Bioethical Issues, Sociological Perspectives.

All books by Rebecca Tiger

The number of people incarcerated in the U.S. now exceeds 2.3 million, due in part to the increasing criminalization of drug use: over 25% of people incarcerated in jails and prisons are there for drug offenses. Judging Addicts examines this increased criminalization of drugs and the medicalization of addiction in the U.S. by focusing on drug courts, where defendants are sent to drug treatment instead of prison. Rebecca Tiger explores how advocates of these courts make their case for what they call “enlightened coercion,” detailing how they use medical theories of addiction to justify increased criminal justice oversight of defendants who, through this process, are defined as both “sick” and “bad.”
Tiger shows how these courts fuse punitive and therapeutic approaches to drug use in the name of a “progressive” and “enlightened” approach to addiction. She critiques the medicalization of drug users, showing how the disease designation can complement, rather than contradict, punitive approaches, demonstrating that these courts are neither unprecedented nor unique, and that they contain great potential to expand punitive control over drug users. Tiger argues that the medicalization of addiction has done little to stem the punishment of drug users because of a key conceptual overlap in the medical and punitive approaches—that habitual drug use is a problem that needs to be fixed through sobriety. Judging Addicts presses policymakers to implement humane responses to persistent substance use that remove its control entirely from the criminal justice system and ultimately explores the nature of crime and punishment in the U.S. today.


  • "In a compelling narrative, Judging Addicts shatters the prevailing assumptions about the novelty and success of contemporary drug courts. This brave and fascinating book is a must-read for scholars, practitioners, and advocates in the criminal justice and public health fields."

    —Mona Lynch, Professor of Criminology, Law & Society, University of California, Irvine

  • "Calling addiction a disease has not reduced stigma and suffering but rather widened the drug war's net of punitive social control. This brilliant book shows the uneasy coexistence of punishment and recovery—a sociologically rich story told in crystalline prose."

    —Craig Reinarman, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz

  • "Judging Addicts traces the intellectual genealogy of our latest criminal justice reform ‘fix’ to a constellation of ideas about illness and crime, freedom and responsibility, that have driven American justice policies since the Progressive era.  An essential read for all of those looking for a real exit to mass incarceration."

    —Jonathan Simon, Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law, Berkeley Law School

  • "Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections."

    —P. Lermack, CHOICE

  • "One of the strengths of this book is the placement of drug courts into their historical context regarding criminal justice reforms. Tiger also offers several good critiques of drug courts, such as their lack of transparency about the number of drug court participants who do not finish and the problematic nature of their advocacy organization (the National Association of Drug Court Professionals) being the main source of data collection and reporting about drug courts. She also does a good job showing the complexity of the issue and the juxtaposition of dealing with addiction as both a disease and a moral failing." 

    —Jennifer Murphy, American Journal of Sociology

  • "Tiger's history and analysis of drug courts are very interesting."

    California Lawyer

  • "[Judging Addicts] is interesting and well written, and perhaps its greatest strength lies in the way in which its author sets her discussion of the drug court initiative in a historic context."

    Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy

  • “[T]his is an excellent book that will be of interest to sociologists who study punishment, health, deviance, and social control.  It is well written and persuasive.  Tiger effectively brought the sociology of knowledge to bear on a contemporary, policy-relevant question.  This is no small accomplishment.  While there are other critical books on drug courts available, Tiger’s approach is fresh and unique and therefore should be required reading by anyone studying the drug court movement.” 

    Social Forces