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Roles and Power within Federal Problem Solving Courtroom Workgroups

Authors

  • DANIELLE S. RUDES,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!)
    2. Criminology, Law & Society Department at George Mason University
      Danielle S. Rudes, George Mason University—Criminology, Law & Society Department, 10519 Braddock Road, Ste. 1900, MS 6D3 Fairfax, VA, USA, 22030. Telephone: (703) 993-9897; Fax: (703) 993-6020; E-mail: drudes@gmu.edu.
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  • SHANNON PORTILLO

    1. Criminology, Law & Society Department at George Mason University
    2. Center for Justice, Law & Society
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  • The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful insights of Dr. Faye S. Taxman. This work is part of a larger project funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse U01 DA 16213. We would also like to thank the JSTEPS research team members including Faye Taxman, Maxine Stitzer, Anne Rhodes, Amy Murphy, Peter Luongo, Peter Friedmann, Sandy Ressler, a host of graduate student assistants at George Mason University, and the great insights from the research partners in this study.

Danielle S. Rudes, George Mason University—Criminology, Law & Society Department, 10519 Braddock Road, Ste. 1900, MS 6D3 Fairfax, VA, USA, 22030. Telephone: (703) 993-9897; Fax: (703) 993-6020; E-mail: drudes@gmu.edu.

Abstract

Problem solving (PS) courts (e.g., drug, family, gang, prostitution, reentry) are becoming more commonplace. Today, PS courts exist or are planned in nearly all of the ninety-four U.S. federal districts. These courts focus on integrating therapeutic jurisprudence into the courtroom environment while emphasizing group decision-making processes among courtroom workgroup members. In this legal setting, courtroom workgroup teams, regularly consisting of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers (POs), and treatment providers engage a collective, case management approach to decision making with shared power among team members. However, despite the court's therapeutic and collaborative design, we find that POs wield powerful influence in decision making. Informed by sixteen months of qualitative fieldwork, including semistructured interviews, observation of courtroom workgroup meetings, and court observations in five federal PS courts in three federal districts, we find that POs exert undetected informational, technical, and relational power within the PS courtroom workgroup. This role and its accompanying power transforms POs into key decision makers, regardless of PS court type, workgroup dynamics, and decision-making style. The POs' role makes them critical contributors to the outcomes in federal PS courts with important implications for punishment decisions in the federal justice system. With an increasing number of PS courts currently in the planning stages at the federal level, our study has implications for the structure and decision outcomes in these growing courtroom workgroups.

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