From time to time, it’s useful to take stock of some of the evidence that demonstrates that the judge who spends the time to learn procedural-fairness principles and who shows the discipline to practice them regularly is doing something valuable. Toward that end, let’s consider a study of drug courts operating in 29 different locations around the United States.
Like many other studies, this one concluded that drug courts do produce both significant reductions in relapse to further serious drug abuse and significant reductions in criminal behavior. But the researchers asked a critical question: Why does this occur? And that’s where the principles of procedural fairness came squarely to the fore:
“Role of the Judge: The primary mechanism by which drug courts reduce substance use and crime is through the judge. Drug court offenders believe that their judge treated them more fairly than the comparison group, including demonstrating greater respect and interest in them as individuals and greater opportunities to express their own voice during proceedings. Furthermore, when offenders have more positive attitudes toward the judge, they have better outcomes. This was true across all offender subgroups when examining demographics, drug use history, criminality, and mental health. A separate analysis drawing upon the results of structured courtroom observations found, similarly, that drug courts whose judge was rated by members of the research team as exhibiting a more positive judicial demeanor (e.g., respectful, fair, attentive, enthusiastic, consistent/predictable, caring, and knowledgeable) produced better outcomes than other drug courts. Both analyses reaffirmed the central role of the judge.”
Drug courts by design provide greater voice to defendants and opportunities for judges to show respectful treatment of defendants. Judges who do a good job in carrying out these roles get better results—and this appears to be true across various demographic groups. Sounds like a winner to me.
The study, reported in 2011, was done by the Urban Institute, the Center for Court Innovation, and RTI International. The Executive Summary is a quick and easy read.