Spacing Out: Geographic Boundary Setting by Drug Treatment CourtsFeb 21st, 2012 | By Mike Reddy
Dawn Moore, Lisa Freeman, and Marian Krawczyk
Social & Legal Studies. 2011.
While generations of moms have adhered to the adage “out of sight, out of mind,” should today’s drug treatment courts use the same logic? In their June article “Spatio-Therapeutics: Drug Treatment Courts and Urban Space,” Dawn Moore, Lisa Freeman, and Marian Krawczyk examine the increasingly common drug court practice of banning participants from entering urban areas considered “bad” or “unhealthy” for recovering addicts. Designed by the courts with minimal input from participants, these boundaries are often created using anecdotal evidence of a city’s most dangerous, drug-infested areas and participant reports of their own substance abuse geography.
Drawing on over 1,000 hours of observed sentencing in six federally funded drug treatment courts in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, the authors conclude that the current system of creating barriers relies on oversimplified notions of addiction and low-income communities. By making whole swaths of a city out to be “bad” or “unhealthy” for a recovering addict, lawmakers risk injudiciously labeling these areas as harmful to recovery. The implication is that drug use is an act wholly anchored to a specific space.
While more commonplace arguments against judicial boundary setting–ghettoization of neighborhoods, stigmatization of communities, and homogenization of urban centers–are relevant, the authors emphasize that boundary setting has had profoundly limiting effects on access to potentially meaningful therapeutic services for participants. Such measures:
extract an individual from a community while simultaneously negating the existence or value of that community. The denial of access to services, communities, family and friends was…quite punitive
Logistically, the creation of spatial boundaries has been especially problematic in cities where treatment centers, homeless shelters, and even courthouses are located in high-crime areas to increase accessibility to the populations they serve. Perversely, Moore, Freeman, and Krawczyk find that it was commonplace for judges to set boundaries and immediately create exceptions to those boundaries in the same hearing, especially when the court could not find alternative housing arrangements for the participant. Significantly, access to potentially therapeutic cultural or social resources–from indigenous drumming circles to family homes–are rarely considered worthy of exception.
While its implementation may leave much to be desired, the authors concede that the creation of geographic barriers is one of the only relatively objective therapeutic options available to judges with few alternatives. Furthermore, the overall objective of creating barriers is, of course, to prevent relapse. Accordingly, the authors do not directly advocate that space-based interventions be scrapped entirely, but instead allude to the need for a more nuanced, informed, and collaborative manifestation of the current policy.