Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jack Spencer

Committee Member 1

Michael Vuolo

Committee Member 2

Elizabeth Hoffmann

Committee Member 3

Eric Waltenburg


The United States currently leads the world in incarcerations rates. The dramatic increase of using prison as a response to most criminal offenses has called for new and innovative practices. Problem solving courts have been leading the way by incorporating evidence-based practices in the courtroom to find alternatives to incarceration. However, although problem solving courts are receiving praise for their innovative ways, they have seemed to fail at adequately addressing the racial disparities so prevalent in the U.S. criminal justices system. This dissertation seeks to understand how race can play a role in problem solving courts, by specifically evaluating community courts. Community courts are courts that focus on low-level offenses in the communities where they reside. Although community courts have been around for nearly twenty years, they have not been extensively examined. The project seeks to understand how community courts operate and their theoretical foundations. However, more importantly, this qualitative project sheds light on how race can influence program outcomes among its participants. Three community courts were observed over a three month period that included participant observations and interviews with key courtroom personnel such as judges, lawyers, and clinicians. Hopefully the results of this study can begin to expand the conversation of race and its role within courtroom settings.