Maybe he's depressed: Mental illness as a mitigating factor for drug offender accountability

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14 Scopus citations


Given the often perplexing relationship between mental illness and substance abuse among offenders, this article looks at how a juvenile drug court staff's presumptions of a youth's mental illness affect its decision-making process. Based on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork at a Southern California juvenile drug court, this article uses Manzo and Travers's "law in action" approach to analyze how the staff readjusts its application of normal remedies (a concept developed by Robert Emerson) designed to respond to a youth's noncompliance when it suspects mental illness may be influencing the youth's actions. In doing so, it highlights how court staff's considerations of youth mental disorders arise out of its everyday work practices. Furthermore, the article discusses how staff negotiations around a youth's mental illness create tensions for the juvenile drug court's accountability-based model of therapeutic jurisprudence, because assessments of mental illness tend to mitigate responsibility for a youth's behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-602
Number of pages34
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Law


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