Revealing What Recidivism Hides: Punishment, Surveillance, and Bias in Evaluating Adult Drug Court in Maine

Claire Camille Brown, Bates College


The thesis evaluates whether Adult Drug Court in Maine is an alternative to the carceral state using Foucauldian and carceral state perspectives. The expansion of the U.S. penal system through key political events including the 1960s War on Crime and the 1980s War on Drugs fueled the rise of the “carceral state.” This punitive turn in governance has created serious problems of mass incarceration, bias in criminal justice, and societal and political marginalization of ex-offenders, especially in connection with drug crime. Adult Drug Court was first adopted in 1989 as an alternative to incarceration for drug-abusing offenders and has since spread to every state. It is a court-monitored drug treatment program led by a team of legal and treatment professionals. It has been reported as a success largely in terms of reducing recidivism. Determining whether drug court is an alternative to incarceration, however, requires evaluating its relationship to the carceral state and whether it reproduces or counteracts core problems of 1) punishment, 2) surveillance, and 3) bias. The thesis gauges the relationship of drug court to the carceral state through interviews with drug court and traditional criminal justice professionals as well as direct observations of drug court. I conclude that drug court in Maine is an improvement upon carceral state conceptions of punishment and surveillance as well as success and effectiveness. However, it is another vehicle of carceral state development in that it relies on the threat of punishment and does not address important structural obstacles to reintegration.