Making the criminal addict: Subjectivity and social control in a strong-arm rehab

Teresa Gowan, Sarah Whetstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The mandatory, state-subsidized treatment opened up by drug courts and other jail and prison diversion programs have massively expanded the numbers of the nation's poor and working class who are labeled addicts and sent to rehab, making drug rehabilitation a primary site for the re-socialization and control of the poor. Drawing on ethnographic and interview data, this article examines the institutional form at the center of this process: the 'strong-arm' rehabilitation facilities most closely tied to drug courts, probation, and parole. The therapeutic community tradition's long-standing practices of moral reform through intensive behavior modification are now mobilized by the state on a large scale, transformed into a 'fuzzy edge' of the criminal justice system which resocializes far more intensively than most forms of incarceration. We understand the 'medicalization' represented by strong-arm rehab not as a reprieve from judgment, but instead as a process of translation and amplification. Translated by staff into therapeutic, moral, and finally cultural versions, the biochemical 'diagnosis' of pathology comes to serve as a neutral, medicalized front behind which the systemic injuries of race and class disappear. Instead, the strong-arm process amplifies the taint of addiction into a new biologization of poverty and race.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-93
Number of pages25
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • addiction treatment
  • drug courts
  • mass incarceration
  • poverty
  • race
  • subjectivity


Dive into the research topics of 'Making the criminal addict: Subjectivity and social control in a strong-arm rehab'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this