School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision (PhD)


Frederick Milacci


drug court, judges, substance use treatment, therapeutic jurisprudence, procedural justice




The purpose of this phenomenological study is to describe current judges’ experiences presiding over drug treatment courts in Virginia. These experiences include the factors that led them to serve as a drug court judge, their training (if any) in behavioral health, and their perspective on how they apply therapeutic jurisprudence and procedural justice. The theory guiding this study is the diversionary justice theory. This theory explains the importance of diverting individuals charged with a crime from entering the punitive criminal justice system. The study was guided by the following research questions: How do judges describe their experiences presiding over drug treatment courts in Virginia? How do participants describe their application of therapeutic jurisprudence and procedural justice in drug courts in Virginia? How do participants describe their role as part of the drug court multidisciplinary team? How do participants describe the balance between the application of therapeutic jurisprudence, procedural justice, and public safety? A transcendental phenomenological design was used to examine common themes from the judges’ shared lived experiences. Data were collected through semistructured individual interviews with drug treatment court judges in Virginia. Following the interviews, data were analyzed using a modified van Kaam method consistent with a transcendental phenomenological approach. The lived experiences of the judges constructed a conceptualization of common themes that provided a basis for reflection and analysis, which may ultimately contribute to improved practice and treatment outcomes for individuals with substance use disorders. The findings were summarized in three themes: judges’ experiences with drug court participants, judges’ experiences with the drug court team, and judges’ experiences as learners.

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