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Problem-Solving Courts

The scope of criminal court research and evaluation has grown with the advent of problem-solving courts. Examples of problem-solving courts include drug courts, domestic violence courts, reentry courts, and veterans treatment courts.

The Problem-Solving Court Model

Problem-solving courts differ from traditional courts in that they focus on one type of offense or type of person committing the crime.

An interdisciplinary team, led by a judge (or parole authority), works collaboratively to achieve two goals:

  • Case management to expedite case processing and reduce caseload and time to disposition, thus increasing trial capacity for more serious crimes.
  • Therapeutic jurisprudence to reduce criminal offending through therapeutic and interdisciplinary approaches that address substance use disorders and other underlying issues without jeopardizing public safety and due process.

The most common problem-solving courts are drug courts, but several other types of programs apply similar approaches to address violent and repeat offending, and returns to incarceration. [Note: Repeat offending is often referred to as "recidivism" in criminal justice research.]

Learn more about:

  • Drug courts
  • Domestic violence courts

Other NIJ projects in this area include:

  • " Identifying Those Who Served: Modeling Potential Participant Identification in Veterans Treatment Courts ," and article in the inaugural issue of Drug Court Review , published by the National Drug Court Resource Center.
  • The final report or executive summary as submitted to the National Institute of Justice.
  • NIJ’s completed Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts that examines program processes, impacts, and costs.
  • Past evaluations of two community court programs, see  A Community Court Grows in Brooklyn: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, (Executive Summary) (pdf, 13 pages) , and  Dispensing Justice Locally: The Impact, Costs, and Benefits of the Midtown Community Court (pdf, 361 pages) .

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  • Problem-Solving Courts in the US

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / Case Study: Problem-Solving Courts in the US

Author: Isabella Banks , Justice Sector Advisor


Problem-solving courts are specialised courts that aim to treat the problems that underlie and contribute to certain kinds of crime (Wright, no date). “Generally, a problem-solving court involves a close collaboration between a judge and a community service team to develop a case plan and closely monitor a participant’s compliance, imposing proper sanctions when necessary” (Ibid).  In the past three decades, problem-solving courts have become a fixture in the American criminal justice landscape, with over 3,000 established nationwide. All 50 states have appointed a statewide drug court coordinator, and at least 13 have introduced the broader position of statewide problem-solving court coordinator (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010; J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

What does it mean for a court to be problem-solving?

Although a number of different types of problem-solving courts exist across the US, they are generally organised around three common principles: problem-solving, collaboration, and accountability (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. iii.).

Problem-solving courts are focused on solving the underlying problems of those who perpetrate or are affected by crime. This includes reducing recidivism as well as rehabilitating participants (with the exception of domestic violence courts, as elaborated below), victims and the broader community (Ibid. p. iii.).

Problem-solving courts are also characterised by interdisciplinary collaboration among stakeholders in and outside of the criminal justice system. Dedicated staff who have been assigned to the problem-solving court work together to develop court policies and resolve individual cases in a relatively non-adversarial way. Ongoing collaboration between court staff and public agencies, service providers and clinical experts is also essential for providing appropriate treatment to problem-solving court participants (Ibid. p. 38). Because problem-solving courts aim to address the impact of crime on the community and increase public trust in justice, they also have frequent contact with community members and organisations and regularly solicit local input on their work (Ibid. p. 39).

Problem-solving courts aim to hold individuals with justice system involvement, service providers and themselves accountable to the broader community. For individuals with justice system involvement, this means holding them accountable for their criminal behaviour by promoting and monitoring their compliance with court mandates. In order to comply, problem-solving court participants must understand what is expected of them, regularly appear for status hearings, and have clear (extrinsic and intrinsic) incentives to complete their mandates. 

For service providers, this means providing services based on a coherent, specified and effective model, and accurately and regularly informing the court about participants’ progress. Problem-solving courts are also responsible for assessing the quality of service delivery and making sure models are adhered to (Ibid. p. 43-44). 

Lastly and perhaps most fundamentally, problem-solving courts must hold themselves to “the same high standards expected of participants and stakeholders” (Ibid. p. 44-45).  This means monitoring implementation and outcomes of their services using up-to-date data. 

What does problem-solving justice look like in practice?

Problem-solving justice comes in different forms. The original, best known, and most widespread problem-solving court model is the drug court. The first drug was created in 1989, after a judge in Miami Dade county became frustrated seeing the same drug cases cycling through her court and began experimenting with putting defendants into treatment (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020). This approach (elaborated in the sections that follow) gradually gained traction, and there are now over 3,000 drug courts across the US (Strong and Kyckelhahn 2016).

This proliferation of drug courts helped stimulate the emergence of three other well-known problem-solving court models: mental health, domestic violence and community courts (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. iii.). Mental health courts are similar to drug courts in that they focus on rehabilitation, but different in that they aim for the improved social functioning and stability of their participants rather than complete abstinence (Ibid. p. 51). Domestic violence courts are unique in that they do not universally embrace participant treatment and rehabilitation as an important goal. Instead, many – thought not all – are primarily focused on victim support and safety and participant accountability and deterrence (Ibid. p. 52). 

Community courts “seek to address crime, public safety, and quality of life problems at the neighbourhood level. Unlike other problem-solving courts…community courts do not specialise in one particular problem. Rather, the goal of community courts is to address the multiple problems and needs that contribute to social disorganisation in a designated geographical area. For this reason, community courts vary widely in response to varying local needs, conditions, and priorities” (Lee et al. 2013). There are now over 70 community courts in operation around the world (Lee et al. 2013, p.1). Some are based in traditional courthouses, while others work out of storefronts, libraries or former schools. Though they typically focus on criminal offences, some community courts extend their jurisdiction to non-criminal matters to meet specific needs of the communities they serve as well (Ibid. p. 1.). Regardless of location and jurisdiction, all community courts take a proactive approach to community safety and experiment with different ways of providing appropriate services and sanctions (Wright n.d.).

Other less common problem-solving models include veterans courts, homeless courts, reentry courts, trafficking courts, fathering courts, and truancy courts (Ibid). 

The principles and practices of problem-solving justice can also be applied within non-specialised courts that already exist. In a 2000 resolution that was later reaffirmed in 2004, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators advocated for, “Encourag[ing], where appropriate, the broad integration over the next decade of the principles and methods of problem-solving courts into the administration of justice to improve court processes and outcomes while preserving the rule of law” (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 3). Key features of a problem-solving approach to justice – which will be elaborated in the sections that follow – include: individualised screening and problem assessment; individualised treatment and service mandate; direct engagement of the participant; a focus on outcomes; and system change (Ibid. p. iv).

Problems and impacts

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts measured and mapped the following as a first step towards people-centred justice.

  • The most prevalent justice problems within the population served
  • The justice problems with greatest impact on the population served
  • The justice problems that are most difficult to resolve and therefore tend to remain ongoing
  • The groups most vulnerable to (systemic and daily) injustices within the population served

As their name suggests, problem-solving courts emerged to address the most prevalent, impactful, and difficult to resolve justice problems within the populations they serve. The first drug (and Drinking While Driving or DWI) courts were created as a response to the increase in individuals with substance use disorders in the criminal justice system and their levels of recidivism. Similarly, mental health courts “seek to address the growing number of [individuals with mental health needs] that have entered the criminal justice system” (Wright n.d.). As one interviewee put it, “The biggest mental health provider [in Los Angeles] is the county jail” (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).

Drug and mental health problems are among the most common issues faced by individuals responsible for both minor and more serious crime. These issues are difficult to resolve because judges – who have historically had little understanding of treatment and addiction – are inclined to hand down harsh sentences when defendants relapse or fail to complete their court mandate (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020). This trend was particularly acute in the 1980s, when the war on drugs resulted in draconian sentencing laws that reduced judicial discretion (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

In order to understand and meet the needs of their unique populations, problem-solving courts track measures of problem prevalence and severity. As noted in the first section, early and individualised screening and problem assessment is a key feature of problem-solving justice. The purpose of such screenings is to “understand the full nature of the [participant’s] situation and the underlying issues that led to justice involvement.” 

For drug courts, relevant measures of problem severity may include: drug of choice; years of drug use; age of first use; criminal history; and treatment history (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 50). Mental health courts typically assess the nature and severity of their participants’ underlying mental health issues, and may also look at participant stability (in terms of health care, housing, compliance with prescribed medications, and hospitalisations) (Ibid. p. 51). 

Domestic violence courts and community courts are somewhat unique in that the primary population they serve include victims and members of the community as well as individuals with justice system involvement. Domestic violence courts focus on assessing the needs of victims of domestic violence in order to connect them with safety planning and other individualised services. Likewise, in addition to identifying the problems that impact individual participants, community courts focus on assessing the problems that impact the underserved (and also often disserved) neighbourhoods where they work. These should be identified through outreach in the relevant community but often include concentrations of lower level crimes – such as vandalism, shoplifting, and prostitution – as well as distrust of traditional justice actors (Ibid. p. 55-56).

Now that technical assistance is broadly available for problem-solving courts across the US, individualised screening and problem assessment has become increasingly data-driven and informed by validated needs assessment tools (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 16, 2020). 

Over the years, problem-solving courts have also become more adept at identifying groups within the populations they serve that are particularly vulnerable to injustice. The advancement of brain science, for example, has influenced many problem-solving courts to treat participants under 25 differently and give them an opportunity to age out of crime. Young people transitioning out of foster care are particularly vulnerable to justice involvement given their sudden lack of family support. Trafficked individuals, who used to be treated as criminals, are now widely recognised as victims (Ibid). Specialised problem-solving courts, diversion programs, and training initiatives have emerged to understand the unique needs and vulnerabilities of this population (Wright n.d.).

Problem-solving courts have also become more aware of racial inequities in the populations selected to receive treatment (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 16, 2020). Drug court participants in particular are often disproportionately white, with racial breakdowns that do not mirror the racial breakdowns of those arrested. This is largely a result of eligibility requirements tied to federal drug court funding, which has historically restricted individuals with violent criminal histories from participating. Drug courts have also been accused of cherry-picking participants who were most likely to be successful to improve their numbers and receive more funding. Both of these phenomena have had the effect of excluding disproportionate numbers of people of colour from drug treatment (Ibid). In addition to taking steps to mitigate these inequities, drug courts have increasingly come to recognise that cherry-picking low-risk cases reduces their effectiveness overall (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

Defining + Monitoring Outcomes

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts researched and identified the outcomes that people in the target population expect from justice processes.

In 1993, the first community court was set up in the Midtown neighbourhood of New York City (Lee et al. 2013, p.1). Inspired by the Midtown model, the Red Hook Community Justice Center was established in a particularly disadvantaged area of Brooklyn seven years later. Like the Midtown Court, the goal of the Red Hook Community Justice Center was “to replace short-term jail sentences with community restitution assignments and mandated participation in social services” (Taylor 2016). 

In the planning stages however, residents of Red Hook were not happy to learn that a new court was being introduced in their community. Though sustained community outreach, Red Hook court staff were able to change these negative perceptions and convince residents they wanted to do something different. They began by asking the community what outcomes were most important to them (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).  

This early engagement helped the Red Hook planners realise that tracking outcomes related to people’s presence in the court would not be enough to assess the court’s impact in the community. They would also need to look at outcomes that were meaningful to residents, asking questions like: How can we disrupt crime hot spots? How safe does the community feel? Do residents feel safe walking to the park, or the train? At what times? (Ibid).

Although the Red Hook community court model has since been replicated in different parts of the world, the experiences of two of these international courts illustrate that identifying the outcomes that community members expect from justice processes can sometimes be a challenge.

In 2005, England opened its first community court: the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre (NLCJC). A 2011 evaluation of the NLCJC acknowledged its innovative approach and “potentially transformative effect on criminal justice” but also noted:

How and why the Centre needs to connect with the public it is charged with serving remains one of the most complex and enduring concerns for staff...how consistently and how effectively the ‘community’ was contributing to the workings of the Centre provided a constant source of uncertainty” (Mair and Millings 2011).

After eight years of operation, the NLCJC was closed in 2013. Observers have since noted that a lack of grassroots community engagement in the planning and operation of the NLCJC was among the primary reasons that it ultimately failed to take hold (Murray and Blagg 2018; J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020). 

One year after the NLCJC opened in England, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) was piloted in the Collingwood neighbourhood of Melbourne, Australia. At the time, Collingwood had the highest crime rate in Melbourne, high rates of inequality, and a high concentration of services. This combination made it an ideal location for Australia’s first community court. 

Modelled on the Red Hook Community Justice Centre in Brooklyn and spearheaded by the State Attorney General at the time, Rob Hulls, the NJC pilot was focused on improving the community’s relationship with the justice system through local, therapeutic and procedural justice. Like Red Hook, it was designed based on evidence and an analysis of gaps in existing justice services. Despite shifting political winds –  including “tough-on-crime” rhetoric on the one hand and complaints of more favourable “postcode justice” available only for the NJC’s participants on the other – the NJC managed to secure ongoing state government support (J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020). 

Unlike the NLCJC, the NJC remains in operation today. The procedurally just design of the NJC building and approach of its magistrate, David Fanning, have earned the court significant credibility and legitimacy in the Collingwood community (Halsey and Vel-Palumbo 2018; J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020). Community and client engagement have continued to be a key feature of the NJC’s work, helping to reduce recidivism and increase compliance with community-based court orders (Halsey and Vel-Palumbo 2018) .

In spite of its success, some observers note that the NJC’s outreach efforts have not gone as far as they could have. Early consultations with a group of community stakeholders regarding the design and governance of the NJC were discontinued in the Centre’s later years. Although the reason for this is unclear and may well have been legitimate, the result was that key representatives of the community lost direct and regular access to NJC leadership over time (J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020). 

These examples illustrate that even under the umbrella of a one-stop-shop community court, identifying expected justice outcomes in the community as a first step towards problem-solving justice – and continuing to do so even after the court is well-established – is not a given. The extent to which this is achieved depends on the approach of the particular court and its efforts to create a reciprocal and collaborative relationship with the surrounding community.

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts determined whether existing justice processes deliver these outcomes and allow people in the target population to move on?

Problem-solving courts generally – and community courts and drug courts in particular – are created with the explicit intention to address gaps in existing justice processes. 

Community courts are typically established in communities that have been historically underserved and disproportionately incarcerated to provide a more holistic response to crime and increase trust in the justice system. 

In the early days of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, the community’s deep distrust of law enforcement emerged as a key challenge for the Center’s work. Red Hook staff approached this challenge by inviting police officers into the court and showing them the data they had collected on the justice outcomes that residents were experiencing. They helped the officers understand that by not addressing the root causes of crime in the Red Hook community, they were delaying crime rather than stopping it (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).

Over time, the court’s relationship with law enforcement has improved. In 2016, the Justice Center launched its “Bridging the Gap” initiative, which creates a safe space for young people and police officers to get to know each other and discuss difficult topics that offer the chance to explore the other’s perspective (Red Hook Justice News 2016; Sara Matusek 2017).

Similarly, the proliferation of drug courts across the country was a response to high rates of recidivism among individuals with substance use disorders, which persisted in spite of tough-on-crime sentencing practices. During the so-called “war on drugs” in the mid-1980s, judges across the country gradually began to realise that handing down increasingly long sentences to people with substance use disorders was not working. 

One such person was the late Honourable Peggy Hora, a California Superior Court judge responsible for criminal arraignments. Like other judges repeatedly confronted with defendants grappling with substance use disorders in the 1980s and 90s, Judge Hora initially felt that incarceration was the only tool available to her. Not much research had been done on incarceration at the time, so its detrimental effects were not yet widely known (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020). 

Determined to understand why the defendants that came before her seemed to be willing to risk everything to access drugs – even their freedom and the right to see their children – Judge Hora took a class on chemical dependency. This experience brought her to the realisation that “everything they were doing was wrong.” She quickly built relationships with people at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and began engaging with drug treatment research at a national level (Ibid). 

Judge Hora eventually went on to establish and preside over the nation’s second drug court in Alameda County, California. After learning more about procedural justice and seeing evidence that early drug courts worked and saved money in the long run, she helped promote the model across the country and around the world (Ibid).

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts created a system for monitoring whether new, people-centered justice processes deliver these outcomes and allow people in the target population to move on?

Outcomes monitoring is an essential component of problem-solving justice. As Rachel Porter, Michael Rempel, and Adam Manksy of the Center for Court Innovation set out in their 2010 report on universal performance indicators for problem-solving courts:

It is perhaps their focus on the outcomes generated after a case has been disposed that most distinguishes problem-solving courts from conventional courts. Like all courts, problem-solving courts seek to uphold the due process rights of litigants and to operate efficiently, but their outcome orientation demands that they seek to address the underlying issues that precipitate justice involvement (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 1.).

Measuring and monitoring people-centred outcomes was also key to problem-solving courts’ early success. Because the problem-solving approach was so different from the status quo, showing evidence that it worked was necessary for building political and financial support. This meant clearly articulating the goals of problem-solving courts and finding ways to measure progress towards them (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 14, 2020).

In their report, What Makes a Court Problem-Solving? Porter, Rempel, and Mansky identify universal indicators for each of the three organising principles of problem-solving courts. They include: (under problem-solving) individualised justice and substantive education for court staff; (under collaboration) links with community-based agencies and court presence in community; and (under accountability) compliance reviews, early coordination of information, and court data systems (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 57).  Many of these problem-solving principles and practices can be (and are) applied and monitored in traditional courts. 

To ensure delivery of individualised justice for example, any court staff can engage the individuals appearing before it by making eye contact, addressing them clearly and directly, and asking if they have any questions about the charges or their mandate (Ibid). This kind of engagement can “radically change the experience of litigants, victims, and families” and “improve the chance of compliance and litigant perceptions of court fairness” (Ibid). Similarly, any court can prioritise and track its use of alternative sanctions – such as community service or drug treatment – and its efforts to link individuals to existing services in the community (Ibid).

The extent to which a particular (problem-solving or traditional) court monitors progress towards these people-centred outcomes depends on its ability to track compliance and behaviour change among participants. This can be achieved through regular compliance reviews, which provide “an ongoing opportunity for the court to communicate with [participants] and respond to their concerns and circumstances” (Ibid. p. 60-61). Investing in electronic data systems that track and coordinate information also makes it easier for a court to monitor its overall impact on case outcomes and improve the quality of its mandates (Ibid).

Successful outcomes monitoring also depends crucially on a court’s ability to develop strong relationships with researchers. Without this, early problem-solving courts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center would not have been able to, for example, quantify the impact of a 7-day jail stay in terms of budget, jail population, and bookings per month. Strong research partnerships also made it possible to compare successful and unsuccessful court participants, which was necessary to assess and improve the quality of the court’s services (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 14, 2020).

Outcomes monitoring at the Red Hook Community Justice Center was not without its challenges, however. Because most people who come before the court are charged with less serious crimes, their treatment mandates are relatively short. The short amount of time the Red Hook staff and service providers have to work with these participants means that outcomes related to individual progress are not likely to show a full picture of the court’s impact. The Red Hook Community Justice Center addressed this by also measuring outcomes related to the court’s impact on the community. What was the effect on social cohesion and stability when someone’s brother, father, or son was allowed to remain in the community instead of being incarcerated? (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).

Another challenge faced by community courts broadly is that traditional outcomes monitoring systems are not well-equipped to acknowledge the reality that everything is connected. Where does one draw the line between service providers and justice providers? If a restorative justice process facilitated under the supervision of the court fails to reconcile the parties in conflict but has a positive impact on the lives of the support people who participate, should it be considered a success or failure? 

A former Red Hook staff member involved in the court’s peacemaking initiative shared a story of a young, devout woman with a new boyfriend who mistreated her and who her children strongly disliked. When she tried to throw him out, the boyfriend would use her Christian values against her and convince her to let him stay. Eventually, he punched someone and was arrested on assault charges. His case was referred to a restorative justice circle for resolution. In the circle, the boyfriend was very aggressive and as a result, his case was sent back to court. The woman and her children asked if they could continue meeting in circle without him because they found it helpful (Ibid).

After a series of circle sessions together, the woman came to realise that her abusive boyfriend was using drugs and found the courage to kick him out. In his absence, the woman and her children were able to reconcile and reunite. The woman returned to school and her oldest son found a job. The criminal case that started the process was ultimately unresolved, but from a more holistic and common sense perspective the impact of the circles on the family was positive (Ibid). How should success be measured in this case? This is a challenge that community courts attempting to measure and monitor people-centred justice regularly face.

Evidence-Based Solutions

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts introduced interventions that are evidence-based and consistently deliver the justice outcomes that people in the target population look for.

Problem-solving courts have introduced a number of interventions that have proven to deliver people-centred outcomes for the communities they serve. Although different interventions work for different populations, direct engagement with participants and the delivery of individualised treatments are two key elements of the problem-solving orientation that all problem-solving courts share (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 29-30). 

As described in the previous section, direct engagement means that the judge speaks to participants directly and becomes actively engaged in producing positive change in their lives (Ibid. p. 30-31). This effort to ensure that participants feel heard, respected and experience the process as fair is supported by research on procedural justice. 

Individualised treatment means that the interventions delivered are tailored to the specific problems of each participant. This requires that the court offer “a continuum of treatment modalities and services to respond to the variety and degrees of need that participants present.” This service plan must be revisited by the court on a regular basis and adjusted depending on the participant’s reported progress (Ibid. p. 29-30).

Despite this shared approach to justice delivery, different problem-solving courts have identified different types of treatments and ways of monitoring whether they work that are unique to the populations they serve.

Community courts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center, for example, generally work with the residents in their neighbourhood to find out what is important to them rather than imposing a predetermined set of solutions. 

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Melbourne did this through a unique problem-solving process that took place outside of the courtroom and which participants could opt into voluntarily. In a confidential, facilitated discussion based on restorative and therapeutic justice principles, participants were given an opportunity to share their perspective on the problems they were facing and empowered to become collaborators in their own rehabilitation. Important takeaways from this process would be reported back to the court’s magistrate so he could help them move forward – for example by changing their methadone (1) dose or changing the number of treatments they received per week. The collaborative nature of the sessions helped ensure that the treatment plans mandated by the court were realistic for participants. Though the content of these sessions was unpredictable and varied, the co-design process remained constant (J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020; Halsey and Vel-Palumbo 2018).

With that said, certain interventions have proven to consistently improve outcomes for communities, victims, and individuals with justice system involvement when applied to low-level cases. These include: using (validated) screening and assessment tools (2); monitoring and enforcing court orders (3); using rewards and sanctions; promoting information technology (4); enhancing procedural justice (5); expanding sentencing options (to include community service and shorter interventions that incorporate individualised treatment); and engaging the community (6).

In 2009, the National Institute of Justice funded a comprehensive independent evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center to assess whether it was achieving its goals to reduce crime and improve quality of life in the Red Hook neighbourhood through these interventions (Lee et al. 2013, p. 2.). The evaluation found that:

The Justice Center [had] been implemented largely in accordance with its program theory and project plan. The Justice Center secured the resources and staff needed to support its reliance on alternative sanctions, including an in-house clinic and arrangements for drug and other treatment services to be provided by local treatment providers...The Justice Center’s multi-jurisdictional nature, as well as many of its youth and community programs, evolved in direct response to concerns articulated in focus groups during the planning process, reflecting a stated intention to learn of and implement community priorities (Ibid. p. 4).

Using a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods, the evaluation also concluded that Red Hook had successfully: changed sentencing practices in a way that minimised incarceration and motivated compliance; provided flexible and individualised drug treatment; sustainably reduced rates of misdemeanour recidivism among young people and adults; and reduced arrests in the community. 

In spite of the robust evidence supporting their approach, many community courts experience resistance to their efforts to help participants address underlying issues of substance use and mental disorders through treatment. As Brett Taylor, a Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving Justice and former defence attorney at the Red Hook explains:

Some critics of community courts say that [this] is not the job of courts and should be handled by other entities. In a perfect world, I would agree. However, in the reality of the world today, people with social service needs continue to end up in the courts. Court systems across the country have realised that if defendants with social service needs are not given treatment options, those defendants will be stuck in the revolving door of justice and continue to clog the court system....Although it may not comport with the vision of success that many defence attorneys had upon entering this work, I can tell you that nothing beats seeing a sober, healthy person approach you on the street and hearing, ‘Thank you for helping me get my life back on track’ (Taylor 2016, p. 25).

In contrast to the broad and community-based approach to treatment taken by community courts, drug courts focus specifically on providing drug treatment. In the words of Judge Peggy Hora, drug treatment is “painful and difficult.” Because of this, drug courts start with external changes as their goal, but ultimately aim for internal change. This means appropriately matching participants with evidence-based treatment and using neutral language that assists, supports, and encourages participants along the way. Because relapse is such a common feature of recovery, drug courts focus on keeping people in appropriate treatment as long as necessary for them to eventually graduate from the program (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

Drug court treatments have become increasingly evidence-based since the 1990s due to a growing movement toward performance measurement in the non-profit sector:

The emergence of drug courts as a reform of courts’ traditional practice of treating drug-addicted offenders in a strictly criminal fashion coincided with renewed interest in performance measurement for public organisations. The argument for measuring the performance of drug courts is compelling because they are a recent reform that must compete with existing priorities of the judicial system for a limited amount of resources. This makes it incumbent upon drug courts to demonstrate that the limited resources provided to them are used efficiently and that this expenditure of resources produces the desired outcomes in participants (Rubio et al. 2008, p. 1).

This movement was further strengthened by the development of a cutting edge performance measurement methodology known as the “balanced scorecard.” Created for the business sector, the balanced scorecard method aims to go beyond traditional measures of success and get a more balanced picture of performance by incorporating multiple perspectives. This method was adapted to create CourTools, a set of ten performance measures designed to evaluate a small set of key functions of trial courts (Ibid. p. 2). 

Because “the nature of addiction and the realities of substance use treatment require extended times to disposition for drug court participants,” many of the performance measures developed for conventional trial courts (such as reduced time to disposition) are not directly applicable to drug courts. However, the increased application of performance measurement to courts and the creation of CourTools in particular helped make way for the development of the first set of nationally recommended performance measures for Adult Drug Courts in 2004 (Ibid. p. 4).

Developed by a leading group of scholars and researchers brought together by the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) and published for the first time in 2006, these included four key measures of drug court performance: retention; sobriety, in-program recidivism; and units of service (Ibid. p. 5).

Retention refers to the amount of time drug court participants remain in treatment. “Longer retention not only indicates success in treatment but also predicts future success in the form of lower post treatment drug use and re-offending”  (Ibid. p. 5). Sobriety – both during and after treatment –  is another important goal of drug courts. “As the participant proceeds through the program, a trend of decreasing frequency of failed [drug] tests should occur. Research has shown that increasing amounts of time between relapses is associated with continued reductions in [drug] use” (Rubio et al. 2008, p. 5). In-program recidivism is the rate at which drug court participants are re-arrested during the course of their participation. This is expected to be lowered through a combination of “judicial supervision, treatment, and rewards and sanctions” unique to drug courts (Ibid. p.5; US Government and Accountability Office, 2005). Finally, units of service refers to the dosages in which drug court treatment services – including, but not limited to substance use treatment – are delivered. These are usually measured in terms of days or sessions of service provided (Rubio et al. 2008, p. 5).

Since their development, these four measures of drug court performance have been actively promoted by leading technical assistance providers like the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) (Ibid. p. 6). They have since been adopted and adapted by a number of states across the US. The NCSC facilitates this process, but decisions about what specifically to measure are made by the advisory committee convened by the state-level agency responsible for drug courts (Ibid). Additional performance measures used by some states relate to, for example: accountability, social functioning, processing, interaction with other agencies, compliance with quality standards, and  juvenile drug court measures, family drug court measures, and domestic violence drug court measures (Ibid. p. 10).

In 2007, the NCSC surveyed statewide drug court coordinators from across the country about their use of state-level performance measurement systems (SPMS). Out of 45 states that completed the surveys, 58% were using a SPMS in their drug courts. Most of these were adult drug courts (Ibid. p. 14). Although the frequency with which these states reported performance measurement data varied from quarterly to annually, the majority did provide data to a central agency (Ibid. p. 15). 

The development and widespread use of SPMS have helped drug courts deliver treatments that are increasingly evidence-based in the sense of consistently delivering the outcomes that their participants need. However, the NCSC survey found that the state-level performance measures used were not entirely balanced in that they typically focused more on the effectiveness of drug courts than their efficiency, productivity, or procedural satisfaction (Ibid. p. 20). The NCSC therefore recommended that a more balanced, national and uniform set of drug court performance measures be developed to measure performance more holistically and facilitate comparisons of performance across states (Ibid. p. 18).

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts used outcome-based monitoring (discussed in the previous section) to continuously improve these interventions and replace interventions that have proven ineffective?

Because of their problem-solving orientation and focus on outcomes, problem-solving courts are by their nature adaptive and capable of developing new treatment modalities to meet different kinds of needs. As Brett Taylor, Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving at the Center for Court Innovation put it, “the problem-solving court environment creates a space in which there is more room for creativity. If you were to redesign the justice system now, there wouldn’t be only courts you could go to, there would be different justice mechanisms and modalities available to treat different levels of issues. Perhaps that is why new modalities develop within problem-solving courts” (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

A clear example of this creative and outcomes-based approach to improvement was the way the problem-solving dialogue process developed at the Neighbourhood Justice Center (NJC) was adapted over time to meet changing demands in the community. As Jay Jordens, a Neighbourhood Justice Office at the NJC who introduced the process explains: “different problems would arise that would demand a re-design of the court’s approach” (J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

For example, the NJC began to notice that people responsible for family violence were participating in problem-solving dialogues without sharing this part of their history. In response, the NJC developed a tailored problem-solving process for people who were respondents to a family violence order in which this part of their past would be addressed from the start. The NJC also began facilitating support meetings for victims of family violence, including for example parents who were being mistreated by their children. The process was designed to solicit feedback about the new approach after victims had tried it. Eventually, it earned the support of the police in the community because it consistently delivered outcomes for a unique population (Ibid).

A second adaptation of the problem-solving process at the NJC was made when court staff noticed that many young people were opting out. Many of the court-involved young people in the Collingwood community were refugees from South Sudan who were experiencing the effects of intergenerational trauma. Realising that the process as it was originally imagined was too interrogative for this population, the NJC began holding circles with the young person, their mother, and one or two support workers. A facilitator would begin by asking humanising questions of everyone in the circle. Although the young person would often pass when it was their turn to speak, participating in the circle gave them an opportunity to listen, relax, and improve their relationships with the adults sitting in the circle with them. These problem-solving circles were designed to prioritise safety concerns and would often result in an agreement among the participants to get external support and/or attend family therapy.

Jay Jordens notes that such adaptations were possible in spite of, not because of, an operational framework of specialisation within the court that made collaboration a choice rather than an expectation among Centre staff. “We aren’t there yet where these processes are intuitive,” he explained, “we still need to actively facilitate them” (Ibid).

Because of their systematic approach to outcomes monitoring and performance measurement, drug courts have made a number of improvements to the treatment they provide as well. First and foremost, they have learned to avoid net widening: “the process of administrative or practical changes that result in a greater number of individuals being controlled by the criminal justice system” (Leone n.d.).

Specifically, drug courts have learned that putting the wrong people in the wrong places results in bad outcomes. An example of this is cherry picking the easiest cases for drug treatment: a common practice among drug courts in the early years of their development that later proved to be harmful. Evidence has shown that drug courts are most effective when they focus on treating high-risk, high-needs participants who are most likely to reoffend (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020). Cherry picking low-risk cases in order to inflate measures of success means putting them in more intensive treatment than they need and failing to appropriately match treatments with risk. Over time, this entraps people in the criminal justice system unnecessarily and reduces drug courts’ potential to meaningfully reduce crime (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

Cherry picking low-risk cases for drug treatment has also resulted in racially biased outcomes. Because of the ways racial bias is embedded in the American criminal justice system, young white defendants have historically been more likely to be assessed as low-risk and eligible for specialised treatment than participants of colour. Participants of colour who were selected for drug court programming also tended to flunk out or leave voluntarily at higher rates than white participants.

In response to these trends, drug courts developed a toolkit on equity and inclusivity to examine the data and understand why this was happening. They introduced HEAT (Habilitation Empowerment Accountability Therapy), a new drug treatment modality geared towards young black men which was recently evaluated with very positive results. They have also worked harder generally to ensure that treatments are culturally appropriate for the different populations they serve.

Drug courts have also become more sophisticated at treating different kinds of drug addiction. The Matrix Model, for example, was developed to engage a particularly difficult population – stimulant (methamphetamine and cocaine) users – in treatment. Previously considered “untreatable” by many drug courts, stimulant users treated using the Matrix Model have shown statistically significant reductions in drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behaviors associated with HIV transmission, and improved psychological well-being in a number of studies (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020; National Institute of Drug Abuse 2020).

Drug court judges who once took a “blaming and shaming” approach have shifted towards a more people-centred one, as evidenced by changes in the language used to describe participants. In response to research in the medical sector demonstrating that people who are described as addicts receive lower quality care and fewer prescriptions, drug courts have increasingly replaced the term “addiction” with “substance use disorder” (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

In line with this shift, attitudes towards medically assisted drug treatment have also changed dramatically over the years. Whereas most drug courts previously did not allow the use of methadone in treatment, the field has now clearly adopted medically assisted treatment after finding that it was consistent with improved graduation rates, among other outcomes. Though not universally accepted, it is now considered a best practice supported by decades of research (Ibid).

On a more systematic level, a 2007 analysis of performance measurement data collected by the state of Wyoming provides an example of how drug courts have started to use this data to improve the quality of their treatments and overall impact. Based on results related to the key measures of drug court performance introduced in the previous section – retention, sobriety, in-program recidivism and units of service – the NCSC made a number of programmatic recommendations for drug courts across the state. First, they suggested that drug courts aim to support participants’ education and employment-related needs, as both attainment of a diploma and employment at admission to treatment were associated with increased graduation rates. They also recommended that additional resources be made available for young participants of colour, who were found to have higher rates of positive drug tests and recidivism than young white participants (Rubio et al. 2008, p. 17).

Innovations + Delivery Models

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts scaled their people-centered service delivery model to deliver justice outcomes for a larger population.

Many problem-solving courts across the US continue to start in the way the first problem-solving courts did: with judges deciding to do things differently. With that said, the proliferation of problem-solving courts across the country can be traced to three primary factors: science and research; technical assistance; and changes in legal education.

Research has helped bring problem-solving courts to scale by showing that the problem-solving approach to justice, if properly implemented, can be effective. Research on procedural justice and advancements in understanding of the science of addiction have been particularly important in this respect. Increased awareness of major studies in these areas have helped the field shift towards evidence-based working and helped legal professionals learn from past mistakes. More and more judges realise that relapse is part of recovery, and that mandated treatment within a drug court structure delivers positive outcomes for participants (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

Once a number of problem-solving courts had been established around the country, technical assistance providers emerged to help them take a data-driven approach. This means working with communities to look at the numbers and identify the biggest crime problems they are struggling with and introducing a problem-solving court that is responsive to those issues. It also means using screening and needs assessment tools to make informed sentencing decisions and match participants to appropriate treatments. Technical assistance has helped problem-solving courts increase their impact and effectiveness and over time deliver outcomes for larger populations (Ibid).

As problem-solving courts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center have become better known, law students and young legal professionals have become more aware of and enthusiastic about problem-solving justice as an alternative to adversarial ways of working (Ibid). This represents a significant shift from the early days of problem-solving courts, when judges and lawyers alike were reluctant to embrace non-conventional conceptions of their roles as legal professionals. Prosecutors called problem-solving courts “hug-a-thug” programs. Defence attorneys resisted the idea of a court being a cure-all for their clients. Judges insisted that they “weren’t social workers” and shouldn’t be doing this kind of work (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020). Service providers were concerned too: they feared that involving the justice system in treatment would ruin their client relationships.

Over time, judges have come to see that their roles could expand without violating something sacrosanct about being a judge. In 2000, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution supporting the use of therapeutic justice principles. Since then, experience presiding over a drug court has come to be seen as a positive in judicial elections (Ibid).

Despite early concerns that problem-solving courts were “soft on crime,” prosecutors and defense attorneys have largely come on board as well. Research has demonstrated that when problem-solving courts acknowledge their gaps in knowledge and defer to service providers for clinical expertise, they can be successful in supporting treatment. As a result of advances in research, the emergence of problem-solving technical assistance, and important cultural shifts, drug and mental health courts are now widely recognised as appropriate and welcome additions to the field (Ibid). This acceptance has facilitated their spread nationally and as far as Australia and New Zealand.

Court numbers are not the only relevant measure for evaluating the extent to which problem-solving courts have successfully scaled, however. In addition to horizontal scaling of courts across the country, vertical integration of problem-solving principles and practices within particular jurisdictions is an important indicator of problem-solving courts’ spread and influence (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

As explained in the introduction, the principles and practices of problem-solving justice can be and are increasingly applied by traditional justice actors and in existing, non-specialised courts. Police departments across the country are learning that they can divert defendants to treatment from the get-go, without necessarily waiting for a case to be processed through the courts (Ibid). A prominent example of police-led diversion is LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) in Seattle, “a collaborative community safety effort that offers law enforcement a credible alternative to booking people into jail for criminal activity that stems from unmet behavioural needs or poverty” (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, n.d.). The Seattle LEAD model was externally evaluated and found to deliver a range of positive outcomes for individuals with justice system involvement and the community (LEAD National Support Bureau n.d.-a). The model has been replicated successfully and is now operating in over thirty-nine counties in the US (LEAD National Support Bureau n.d.-b).

Cases that do reach court are also increasingly diverted outside of it. Prosecutors and judges who are not operating within a problem-solving court can nevertheless apply problem-solving principles by linking defendants to services and making use of alternative sentences in lieu of jail time. This “problem-solving orientation” has allowed problem-solving justice to be applied in more instances and settings without necessarily setting up new problem-solving courts. One indication that problem-solving courts have already scaled “horizontally” in the US – and that this “vertical” scaling is the latest trend – is the fact that the US government’s drug courts funding solicitation in 2020 no longer includes a category for the creation of a new drug court (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

Evidence of this trend towards vertical scaling can be found as far away as Australia. As a specific alternative to horizontal replication, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) has developed resources to support judges at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to adopt a problem-solving approach to their work. Over time, this court has become a “laboratory of experimentation” for problem-solving principles and practices as well as other complementary technologies (i.e. therapeutic or procedural justice approaches)  that need to be tested before broader roll-out. In a similar vein, New York City’s courts have carried the innovative principles and practices of community courts into centralised courthouses in Brooklyn and the Bronx rather than creating more Red Hooks (Ibid).

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts funded their service delivery model in a sustainable way?

Drug courts have been successful in obtaining large and sustainable streams of federal funding due to the strong research partnerships they developed from the start. Early data collection and evaluation persuaded funders that the problem-solving approach would deliver positive outcomes and save money by reducing incarceration costs. The fact that Florida Attorney General  Janet Reno – who set up the nation’s first drug court in 1989 – worked with Assistant Public Defender Hugh Rodham (7) in Miami Dade County also helped make drug courts a success and capture the attention of the federal government early on.

Importantly, federal funding for drug courts was often conditional upon their participation in rigorous evaluations. This demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug court model in a way that may not have been possible had the drug courts had to fund the research themselves, and justified their continued funding (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020). In recent years, states and counties have become a significant source of funding for drug courts as well  (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

Although the federal government has also helped fund other types of problem-solving courts, drug courts are by far the most sustainably funded. Only recently has the government made it possible for community courts to apply for direct funding, or indirect funding as subgrantees of the Center for Court Innovation. The long-term funding for many community courts is provided by local municipalities (Ibid). Funding community courts is a unique challenge because in addition to standard line items like project director and case worker salaries, they must find a way to cover less conventional expenses support for community volunteers and circle participants (often in the form of food, which the government is not willing to fund) (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

Direct federal funding for other kinds of problem-solving courts is very limited. What funding has been made available to them has gone primarily towards research and the establishment of state-level coordinators and problem-solving court infrastructure. This has helped to increase awareness of the problem-solving principles and practices at the state level and encouraged their application in different areas (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

Private foundations have supported various aspects of problem-solving justice initiatives in certain parts of the country, but have not yet committed to doing so in a sustained way (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

To what extent have problem-solving courts leveraged the following sustainable financing strategies: public-private partnerships and smart (user) contributions?

Community courts in New York – including the Red Hook Community Justice Center and the Midtown Community Court – have benefitted from public-private partnerships to the extent that their planning and operations have been led by the Center for Court Innovation, a public-private partnership between the New York court system and an NGO. Over the years, these courts have also partnered with local “business improvement districts” to supervise community service mandates and offer employment opportunities to program graduates (Ibid).

Some treatment courts do also charge a nominal participant fee, which can range from $5-$20 per week (Wallace 2019). These user contributions can be used for grant matching, among other things. Charging people for their participation in problem-solving programming is generally not regarded as good practice, however (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

More broadly, problem-solving courts and community courts in particular can be said to be financially sustainable in that they often save taxpayer money (Wallace 2019). Although it takes time to realise the benefits of the upfront costs of creating and running a drug court for example, research has demonstrated that once established, the associated cost savings range from more than $4,000-$12,000 per participant (Office of National Drug Court Policy 2011). The Red Hook Community Justice Center alone was estimated to have saved local taxpayers $15 million per year (primarily) in victimisation costs that were avoided as a result of reduced recidivism (Halsey and de Vel-Palumbo 2018). The cost savings associated with problem-solving courts have helped them to continue to be competitive applicants for federal, state and local, and sometimes private grant funding over the years and in spite of changing political winds (Wallace 2019).

  • Enabling environment

How and to what extent have regulatory and financial systems created/enabled by the government supported problem-solving courts and made it possible for this service/activity to scale?

Most if not all states in the US have allowed drug courts to become part of state legislation, which makes possible their continued operation (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

How and to what extent have the outcomes-based, people-centered services delivered by problem-solving courts been allowed to become the default procedure?

Problem-solving courts have not been allowed to become the default procedure in that adversarial courts and procedures remain the standard way of responding to crime in the US. In the words of Judge Hora, “There is no question that the number of people served is growing, but this remains only a drop in the bucket. For every person served there are 6-7 who aren’t” (Ibid). However, the expanding presence of problem-solving courts has helped the justice sector shift away from the excessively punitive state sentencing laws and tough-on-crime rhetoric of the late 1980s towards a more restorative and evidence-based way of working (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).

Problem-solving courts have enabled cultural change by demonstrating to lawyers and judges that defendants do better when they are able to access treatment, while at the same time allowing these traditional legal players to act as intermediaries and retain a gatekeeping role. As discussed in previous sections, police, prosecutors, and judges alike have grown increasingly comfortable with diverting cases from the adversarial track to community-based treatment (Ibid).

It is a paradox that the US has developed and spread the problem-solving courts model as the country with the highest incarceration rates in the world. Former Senior Advisor of Training and Technical Assistance at the Center for Court Innovation, Julius Lang, speculates that this punitive backdrop is what has allowed alternatives to incarceration to flourish in the US and become so highly developed. At the same time, countries with lower baseline penalties that have set up problem-solving courts, such as Canada and Australia, have developed creative means of engaging defendants who need treatment since there is less of a threat of incarceration (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts stimulated (or benefitted from) investment into justice research and development?

Problem-solving courts have both stimulated and benefited from investment into justice research and development. As discussed in the previous sections, the success of problem-solving courts in the US can be attributed in large part to their strong research partnerships. 

From the start, “problem-solving courts always took responsibility for their own research and their own outcomes” (Ibid). Problem-solving justice initiatives run by the Center for Court Innovation, for example, always worked directly with researchers. This produced a huge amount of evaluation literature, which was important for securing the buy-in and funding necessary to continue operating (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 14, 2020). 

The fact that federal funding has incentivised high-quality evaluations has also gone a long way to build a foundation of evidence demonstrating drug courts’ effectiveness (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

Leadership + Pathways

How and to what extent have justice sector leaders’ skills and collaborations enabled/hindered problem-solving courts to increase access to justice by delivering the outcomes people need at scale.

Strong leadership has been essential to problem-solving courts’ ability to deliver the treatment outcomes people need at scale. Without the leadership of visionary judges and other leaders aiming to do things differently, they would never have come into existence in the first place. 

Because of the tendency to maintain the status quo, individual problem-solving courts also rarely get off the ground without a strong champion. The reason for this can be traced to problem-solving principles and practices themselves: the goal is not to force people to change, but to make them change because they want to. In the same way, effective leaders can persuade system actors that problem-solving justice is the way to achieve common goals (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 14, 2020).

Community courts in particular require strong leadership. This can sometimes pose problems for the courts’ long-term stability. For example, a community court in North Liverpool was championed by prominent national politicians. Their leadership was important for the court’s establishment and initial funding, but changes in national leadership and the lack of local support were major factors in the court’s ultimate closure (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

As mentioned above, community courts may struggle when their early champions move on. To avoid this and prepare for the eventual departure of the personalities who are driving change, it is important to put the courts’ internal ways of working into writing. As previously discussed, it is also necessary to obtain evidence that the court’s approach works, as this is a more important driver of funding than good leadership in the long-run (B. Taylor, personal communication, October 5, 2020).

Mid-level leadership within problem-solving courts also matters. Since staff are often employed and supervised by various partner agencies – rather than the director of the project as a whole – it is particularly important that they be selected with care, trained in the project’s mission, policies and practices, and incentivised to work as part of a single team (J. Jordens, personal communication, October 19, 2020).

How and to what extent have problem-solving courts contributed to/benefited from new high-level strategies or pathways towards people-centred justice in the US?

High-level strategies at the state level and in the form of technical assistance have benefitted problem-solving courts significantly by facilitating their replication. This is particularly true of drug courts, for which state-wide coordination mechanisms were set up at an early stage.

Recognising that substance use disorder was a major problem, and persuaded by the same research as federal legislators, state officials began to set up mechanisms that would allow them to receive federal drug court funding. This also allowed them to strategise about which counties would most benefit from drug courts (or other problem-solving courts), and which standards to impose. 

Together, state-wide coordination mechanisms created an infrastructure for the improvement and replication of drug courts nationwide, and made it easier to apply problem-solving practices and principles in new settings. Whereas trainings on brain science and what’s working in treatment used to be reserved for drug court judges, there are now few states that do not include them in judicial training for all new judges. The same can be said for trainings for prosecutors, defence attorneys, and service providers (P. Hora, personal communication, October 16, 2020).

The emergence of technical assistance providers specialising in problem-solving justice such as the Center for Court Innovation, Justice System Partners, the National Center for State Courts, and the Justice Management Institute have also helped problem-solving courts to coordinate and replicate in strategic ways. By developing listservs and organising conferences, these organisations have enabled people in various problem-solving courts to support each other across state and international lines. Over time, these efforts have created shared principles and legitimacy around the movement for problem-solving justice (J. Lang, personal communication, October 28, 2020).

To what extent have problem-solving courts contributed to/played a role in a broader paradigm shift towards people-centered justice?

As mentioned in the introduction, a fifth key feature of the problem-solving orientation is system change. By educating justice system stakeholders about the nature of behavioural problems that often underlie crime and aiming to reach the maximum number of cases within a given jurisdiction, problem-solving courts seek to make broader impact within the justice system and community (Porter, Rempel and Mansky 2010, p. 32-33).

Since the first drug court was set up in 1989, legal professionals have become increasingly aware that many people with social problems end up in the justice system: a system that was never intended to address those problems. Problem-solving courts have contributed to a broader paradigm shift towards people-centred justice to the extent that they have helped these professionals:

  • Acknowledge this issue;
  • Recognise that lawyers are not equipped to deal with this issue (American law schools do not prepare them to);
  • Connect with service providers in the community;
  • Leverage the coercive power of the justice system in a positive way;
  • Encourage success in treatment programs using procedural justice.

By taking a collaborative approach to decision-making, delivering individualised justice for each participant while at the same time holding them accountable, educating staff, engaging the broader community, and working to produce better outcomes for people, problem-solving courts have demonstrated what people-centred criminal justice can look like in the US and around the world.

View additional information

(1) Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat opioid dependence. Taking a daily dose of methadone in the form of a liquid or pill helps to reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of opioid dependent individuals.

(2) “A screening tool is a set of questions designed to evaluate an offender’s risks and needs fairly quickly…An assessment tool is a more thorough set of questions administered before an offender is matched to a particular course of treatment or service.” Taylor 2016, p. 7.

(3) “The main monitoring tool community courts use is compliance hearings, in which participants are periodically required to return to court to provide updates on their compliance.” Taylor, 2016, p. 9.

(4) “Community courts have promoted the use of technology to improve decision-making. Technology planners created a special information system for the Midtown Community Court to make it easy for the judge and court staff to track defendants…Information that’s reliable, relevant, and up-to-date is essential for judges to make the wisest decisions they can.” Taylor 2016, p. 12-13.

(5) In community courts, “judges often speak directly to the offender, asking questions, offering advice, issuing reprimands, and doling out encouragement. This reflects an approach known as procedural justice…Its key components, according to Yale Professor Tom Tyler, are voice, respect, trust/neutrality, and understanding.” Taylor 2016, p. 15.

(6) “Community courts emphasize working collaboratively with the community, arguing that the justice system is stronger, fairer, and more effective when the community is invested in what happens inside the courthouse.” Taylor 2016, p. 22.

(7) Hugh Rodham was the brother of Hillary Clinton, who would become the First Lady a few years later.

View References

Amanda Cissner and Michael Rempel. (2005).  The State of Drug Court Research: Moving Beyond ‘Do They Work?’ , Center for Court Innovation.

Brett Taylor. (2016). Lessons from Community Courts: Strategies on Criminal Justice Reform from a Defense Attorney . Center for Court Innovation, p. 3.

Cheryl Wright, (n.d.). Tackling Problem-Solving Issues Across the Country . National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Cynthia Lee, Fred Cheesman, David Rottman, Rachael Swaner, Suvi Lambson, Michael Rempel and Ric Curtis. (2013). A Community Court Grows in Brooklyn: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center . National Center for State Courts, Center for Court Innovation, p.1.

David Wallace. (2019). Treatment Court: Is Yours Sustainable? (Part Four) . Justice Speakers Institute.

David Wallace. (2019). Treatment Court: Is Yours Sustainable? (Part One) . Justice Speakers Institute.  

Dawn Marie Rubio, Fred Cheesman and William Federspiel. (2008). Performance Measurement of Drug Courts: The State of the Art . National Center for State Courts, Volume 6, p. 1.

George Mair and Matthew Millings. (2011). Doing Justice Locally: The North Liverpool Community Justice Centre . Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

Halsey and de Vel-Palumbo. (2018). Courts As Empathetic Spaces: Reflections on the Melbourne Neighbourhood Justice Centre . Griffith Law Review, 27(4).

Interview with Brett Taylor, Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving Justice, Center for Court Innovation, October 5, 2020.

Interview with Brett Taylor, Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving Justice, Center for Court Innovation, October 14, 2020.

Interview with Brett Taylor, Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving Justice, Center for Court Innovation, October 16, 2020.

Interview with Brett Taylor, Senior Advisor for Problem-Solving Justice, Center for Court Innovation, October 19, 2020.

Interview with Jay Jordens, Education Program Manager – Therapeutic Justice, Judicial College of Victoria, October 19, 2020.

Interview with Judge Peggy Hora, President, Justice Speakers Institute, October 16, 2020.

Interview with Julius Lang, Senior Advisor, Training and Technical Assistance, Center for Court Innovation, October 28, 2020.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) , King County.

LEAD National Support Bureau, (n.d.). Evaluations . 

LEAD National Support Bureau. (n.d.). LEAD: Advancing Criminal Justice Reform in 2020 .

Mark Halsey and Melissa de Vel-Palumbo. (2018). Courts As Empathetic Spaces: Reflections on the Melbourne Neighbourhood Justice Centre . Griffith Law Review 27 (4). 

Matthew Leone, Net widening , Encyclopaedia of Crime and Punishment, SAGE Reference.

National Institute of Drug Abuse (2020). The Matrix Model (Stimulants) , Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Office of National Drug Court Policy. (2011). Drug Courts: A Smart Approach to Criminal Justice .

Rachel Porter, Michael Rempel and Adam Mansky. (2010). What Makes a Court Problem-Solving? Universal Performance Indicators for Problem-Solving Justice . Center for Court Innovation, p. 1

Red Hook Justice News. (2016).  Bridging the Gap: Youth, Community and Police . 

Sarah Matusek. (2017). Justice Center celebrates Bridging the Gap birthday . The Red Hook Star Revue. 

Sarah Murray and Harry Blagg. (2018). Reconceptualising Community Justice Centre Evaluations – Lessons from the North Liverpool Experience . Griffith Law Review 27 (2).

Suzanne Strong and Tracey Kyckelhahn. (2016).  Census of Problem-Solving Courts, 2012 . Bureau of Justice Statistics.

US Government and Accountability Office, 2005.

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Criminal Justice


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Problem-solving courts.

The last 20 years have seen the creation and proliferation of problem-solving courts. These courts are different from the traditional criminal court in that they have specialized dockets, create a collaborative relationship between traditional court actors and outside organizations, and attempt to solve social problems rather than focus only on adjudicating cases. Evaluations of these courts are mostly positive, showing reduced recidivism among some types of offenders. Continued research is needed to justify the existence and growth of problem-solving courts. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

I. Introduction

Ii. the problem-solving court movement, a. history of development, b. objectives of problem-solving courts, c. why problem-solving courts are important, iii. problem-solving courts compared with traditional courts, iv. types of problem-solving courts, v. research on problem-solving courts, a. drug court evaluations, b. domestic violence court evaluations, c. mental health court evaluations, d. community court evaluations, e. evaluations of other problem-solving courts.

VI. Future Directions, Conclusion, and Bibliography

Problem-solving courts, also called specialty courts, are a fairly recent, but rapidly growing development in the American criminal court system. Problem-solving courts are specialized courts that develop expertise in particular social problems, such as addiction, domestic violence, or family dysfunction, because their caseloads consist primarily of these types of criminal cases (Dorf & Fagan, 2003). The first of them was a drug court created in Dade County, Florida, in 1989 (Jeffries, 2005). Besides drug courts, the most common types of problem-solving courts are domestic violence courts, mental health courts, and community courts (Casey & Rottman, 2005).

While not all problem-solving courts are the same, they share common elements that distinguish them from traditional courts. First, they use judicial authority to address chronic social problems. Second, they go beyond simple adjudication of cases and attempt to change the future behavior of defendants through judicial supervision of therapeutic treatment. Finally, they work collaboratively with other criminal justice agencies, community groups, and social service providers to accomplish particular social outcomes, such as low recidivism, safer family environment, and increased sobriety (Berman & Feinblatt, 2001).

Most authorities identify the creation of the first drug court in 1989 in Dade County, Florida, as the start of the problem-solving court movement (Jeffries, 2005). However, others argue that the juvenile court, first created in Chicago in 1899, was the first problem-solving court (McCoy, 2003). Progressive reformers who advocated for the creation of a separate juvenile court believed that separate courts were needed to more effectively address the problem of juvenile crime. Parallels can be drawn between modern problemsolving courts and the juvenile court in that both shifted the focus away from just punishment to attempting to address the individual needs of the offender and that both relied on the services and expertise of social service agencies (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

Berman and Feinblatt (2005) have argued, instead, that problem-solving courts came about in a spontaneous manner, without any type of centralized planning or leadership. While they agree that problem-solving courts borrowed from the juvenile court, other disciplines and movements were tapped as well, including alternative dispute resolution, the victims’ movement, therapeutic jurisprudence, and the problem-solving and “broken windows” reforms in policing (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

Problem-solving courts have drawn from both the successes and the weaknesses of alternative dispute resolution programs. Interest in mediation and other alternative dispute resolution programs stemmed from a desire to remove low-level crimes and disputes from an overworked court system. Advocates also championed the informal aspects of mediation that generally led to an agreement favored by both parties. One weakness of mediation is that participation is usually voluntary and parties that are not satisfied with an outcome can continue the fight in a different forum. Thus, a key difference between problemsolving courts and mediation or other alternative dispute resolution programs is the reliance on formal court operations and systems to determine outcomes (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

Problem-solving justice has incorporated many of the successes and values of both the victims’ rights movement and therapeutic justice. Domestic violence courts in particular focus on the needs of crime victims and involve victim advocacy organizations in decision making. The belief that particular communities can also be “victims” of criminal behavior was a major reason for the creation of community courts. Community courts ask for and receive much input from communities regarding the impact of public order crimes. While not a perfect example of therapeutic jurisprudence, problem-solving courts use the law and courts to address the physical and psychological needs of offenders through court-mandated and -monitored treatment (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

Other powerful influences over the creation of problemsolving courts were two recent reforms in policing, namely broken windows and problem-solving policing. Broken windows was a term introduced by J. Q. Wilson and Kelling in an article published in 1982 in Atlantic Monthly. Wilson and Kelling advocated changing the focus of policing from strict law enforcement to more order maintenance. They argued that overall crime levels could be decreased by concentrating on reducing low-level crimes such as vandalism and public intoxication.

Problem-solving policing was introduced by Goldstein in a 1979 article in Crime & Delinquency. Goldstein argued for a more deliberate inquiry into the underlying causes of and solutions to crime using resources within the community. Problem-solving courts also utilize community resources to identify and attempt to solve the underlying causes of crime. Community courts, in particular, also focus on combating low-level public order crimes with mostly community service sentences. Another link between problem-solving courts and recent reforms in policing is the focus on achieving real outcomes rather than simply case processing (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

A major impetus for the problem-solving court movement is dissatisfaction with the traditional criminal court. This is particularly true with regards to the handling of low-level criminal offenders. While the public and the media focus more on the sensationalism of violent crimes, the criminal courts are bogged down with mostly misdemeanor crimes that rarely capture the attention of either the public or the media. Judges have expressed concern over the limited options available for the low-level drug user or public order offender (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). Communities and victims are weary and frustrated over the apparent “revolving door” of justice through which minor criminal offenders are arrested, tried, sentenced to a few days or weeks in jail, and returned to the community to offend again.

A main objective of problem-solving courts is to go beyond mere case processing by attempting to address the needs of offenders, victims, and the community. The frustration with the state of misdemeanor justice in the traditional criminal courts and a desire to change the actions of criminals, improve the safety of victims, and enhance the quality of life in residential communities are the main forces behind problem-solving courts (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).

Problem-solving courts attempt to change criminal behavior through court-ordered and -monitored treatment and more accountability in sentencing. Drug courts require substance abuse treatment as a condition of participation in the court. While drug treatment has long been used in sentencing by traditional criminal courts, the increased involvement by the judge in monitoring progress and compliance is a key component of drug treatment courts.

Community courts primarily deal with low-level public order offenders who have traditionally been sentenced to jail time or fines that seem to hold no deterrent effect. Judges in community courts are more likely now to sentence prostitutes, panhandlers, vandals, and other public order offenders to immediate sentences of visible community service (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). In addition to these community service sentences, substance abuse treatment, employment counseling, housing assistance, and other services are typically available to assist the offender in overcoming some of the underlying causes of crime.

Addressing the needs of the victim is another objective of some problem-solving courts. This is particularly true with domestic violence courts. Ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence is paramount in these courts. Judges presiding in domestic violence courts regularly issue restraining orders preventing offenders from having contact with their victims. Victims typically are brought to the court to make contact with victim services personnel so that they can receive other services such as counseling and safe shelter. In fact, some would argue that because domestic violence courts place the safety needs of the victim over the treatment needs of the offender, these courts are different from most other problem-solving courts and probably should not be identified with them (Casey & Rottman, 2005).

Enhancing the quality of life in residential communities is a major objective of many problem-solving courts, in particular community courts. Considering that the community is the “victim” of many public order crimes, community courts draw from the resources in the community to identify and then address ways in which communities suffer from these crimes. Residents are surveyed to identify levels of fear and concern over community crime.With this information, community leaders including court personnel, law enforcement, and business owners can work with residents to combat crime and address other concerns. Much of the work to improve the appearance of the community is done either by volunteers or by offenders sentenced to community service (Berman & Fox, 2005).

Problem-solving courts are important because they attempt to address the deficiencies of the traditional criminal courts. The traditional criminal court may do a good job handling more serious violent offenders where incarceration is the expected and usual outcome. However, the effective handling of minor offenders requires something more than short periods of incarceration. Other defendants, such as drug users and mentally ill offenders, would seem to benefit more in the long run from mandated treatment rather than punishment alone. The deficiencies of the traditional court in handling the specific needs of victims and particular communities give reason to expect more from the judicial system that some problem-solving courts are better suited to provide. Ultimately, the measured effectiveness of problem-solving courts to adequately address these needs will determine how important they are.

A. Collaboration

Judges and attorneys working in problem-solving courts invite in and are more likely to work with those not traditionally connected with the courtroom work group. Problem-solving judges and attorneys collaborate with social service workers such as treatment providers, victim advocates, or employment services personnel (Wolf, 2007). Officials in drug courts depend on drug treatment providers to provide treatment to their offenders as well as information on the progress of these participants. Court officials in domestic violence courts work closely with victim services providers as well as treatment providers, as they not only try to treat offenders, but also protect victims and provide them other needed services. Similarly, judges and attorneys in mental health courts work closely with service providers to ensure mentally ill offenders receive the treatment they need. Officials in community courts likely share building space with a variety of service providers that assist offenders as well as community members in areas such as employment assistance, medical care, child care, counseling, and education (Berman & Fox, 2005).

Judges in traditional criminal courts usually turn over custody and supervision of offenders to community supervision or probation departments. These judges typically do not monitor supervision of sentenced offenders unless they are brought back to court for revocation proceedings. Judges in problem-solving courts more closely monitor the progress of offenders and thus have more contact and communication with other criminal justice officials such as probation or parole officers (Wolf, 2007).

B. Individualized Justice

Another key characteristic of problem-solving courts is the individualized or tailored approach to justice. Offenders are sent to these courts that have specialized caseloads based on the offense the person is charged with. Drug offenders make up the caseloads of drug courts. One of the main purposes for this specialization is to better ensure that offenders receive the treatment that will help them prevent future offending (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). Another key purpose of this court specialization is to allow for more judicial monitoring of individual cases (Wolf, 2007).

C. Accountability

More complete judicial monitoring is a key component of problem-solving courts. Where judges in more traditional criminal courts can hand off cases to other criminal justice officials, problem-solving judges retain jurisdiction and monitor offender compliance throughout treatment, community service sentences, or other sanctions (Wolf, 2007). Judges not only monitor offender compliance through reports sent in by supervision or treatment officers, but they also can have one-on-one contact with offenders through additional court appearances (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). Offenders who violate supervision or treatment orders are quickly brought back before the judge. Judges then have the opportunity to sternly lecture, counsel, or impose additional sanctions on the offender. Judges are then in a better position to ensure that sanctions are carried out or that offenders are following through with court-ordered treatment (Wolf, 2007).

D. Better Information

A key difference between problem-solving courts and traditional criminal courts is that problem-solving courts typically have access to more information so that decision makers can make more informed decisions. Problem-solving judges typically have more complete background information on defendants, victims, and communities impacted by crime (Wolf, 2007). Judges as well as attorneys involved in problem-solving courts try to gain greater access to psychosocial information about defendants who are appearing in court (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). Problem-solving judges also have more information about offender progress as they monitor defendants’ compliance with treatment orders. Furthermore, because of the specialized caseloads characteristic of problem-solving courts, judges, attorneys, and other professionals working in these courts gain valuable expertise and receive specialized training in specific types of offending (Wolf, 2007).

E. Focus on Outcomes

Problem-solving courts have required more in the way of gathering data and conducting research to assess effectiveness. Not content with simply processing cases, problem-solving courts identify specific outcomes that are desired and then conduct research to test whether those outcomes are achieved (Wolf, 2007). Reduced recidivism is an important outcome that is measured in evaluations of problem-solving courts. Other outcomes measured include impact on victims and communities (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005) and cost-benefit analyses (Wolf, 2007).

F. More Community Involvement

One type of problem-solving court, the community court (described further below), is particularly focused on improving community engagement. For more than symbolic reasons, community courts are located in residential urban communities rather than in downtown, commercial districts. The goal is to bring the court closer to the community it serves. Besides physical closeness, the community court also attempts to bring itself closer to the community through increased communication and collaboration with community leaders and members (Wolf, 2007). Residents can serve on advisory boards that make suggestions to court officials for new programming ideas or to inform them of community concerns or conditions. Community members also serve as volunteers in various programs or services and provide a valuable service in offering feedback in evaluations (Berman & Fox, 2005).

A. Drug Courts

Drug courts are specialized courts designed to handle mostly adult felony drug cases of nonviolent offenders who have substance abuse problems. The first drug courts were not as concerned about treatment as they were about improving the efficiency and speed of processing drug cases. These early courts were also more likely to handle less serious offenders and tended to be more like diversionary programs. Over the last decade, these courts evolved more into drug treatment courts that processed felony drug offenders and worked collaboratively with other agencies and treatment providers to ensure successful offender completion of drug treatment (Olson, Lurigio, & Albertson, 2001).

Specialized drug courts evolved from traditional courts that were unable to adjudicate and process drug offenders effectively. Traditional criminal courts failed to reduce drug offending. Traditional probation departments failed to identify and address the needs of supervised drug offenders. Drug treatment providers failed to effectively treat offenders under the traditional court referral processes (Goldkamp, 2000). Traditional sentencing practices led to the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of drug offenders on a yearly basis by 1998 (Hora, 2002).

Drug courts increased during the 1990s because of financial and political support from the federal government. Janet Reno, the U.S. Attorney General for most of the 1990s, was a key player in the formation of the first drug court in Miami in 1989. She and General Barry McCaffrey, former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, supported specialized drug courts. Financial support from the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 provided over $50 million to expand drug courts around the nation (Olson et al., 2001).

B. Domestic Violence Courts

Domestic violence courts are similar to other problem-solving courts in that they have specialized dockets and trained judges, and they engage in collaboration between court officials and other agencies and organizations in the community. However, some people hesitate to classify domestic violence courts as problem-solving courts because there are some key differences between the two. Domestic violence courts generally consider the needs of the victim as more important than the needs of the offender. In contrast to other problem-solving courts, domestic violence courts do not express optimism for the ability to treat successfully domestic violence offenders. Domestic violence courts consider victim safety and offender accountability as more important than offender treatment (Berman, Rempel, & Wolf, 2007). Interestingly, participants in domestic violence courts typically take part in classes for substance abuse, parenting, and mental health counseling. However, these are not viewed as treatment classes; rather, they serve as a monitoring tool for the court (Gavin & Puffett, 2007).

The first recognized domestic violence court was created in Dade County, Florida, in 1992 (Casey & Rottman, 2005). Other jurisdictions over time created dedicated domestic violence courts. While no precise number is given here of how many domestic violence courts exist in the United States, it is estimated that there are “many hundreds” (Gavin & Puffett, 2007).

An example of a domestic violence court is the one that was created in Salt Lake City, Utah, in February 1997. Court officials, along with police detectives, victims’ advocates, and domestic violence and battered women’s shelter counselors, worked in a collaborative effort to handle the 5,000 to 6,000 yearly domestic violence misdemeanor cases in Salt Lake County (Mirchandani, 2005).

C. Mental Health Courts

Mental health courts share characteristics of other problem-solving courts. The first such court appears to have originated in 1997 in Broward County, Florida (Boothroyd, Poythress, McGaha, & Petrila, 2003). These courts consist of specialized dockets of mentally ill offenders (Lushkin, 2001) where a team of court personnel and clinical specialists work collaboratively to address the problems of mostly nonviolent mentally ill offenders through court-ordered and -monitored treatment (Trupin & Richards, 2003).

While most mental health courts accept misdemeanor offenders only, the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, which opened in March 2002, also accepts felony offenders. Originally, this court limited participation to nonviolent felons, but later decided to accept violent felony offenders on a case-by-case basis. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court also limits participation to defendants who suffer from persistent and serious mental illness for which there is a known treatment. Participants in this court must agree to treatment mandates of 12 to 24 months depending upon prior criminal record and seriousness of offense (O’Keefe, 2007).

D. Community Courts

As mentioned above, community courts involve a collaborative effort among court officials, community leaders, and social service providers to combat social problems in a community (Casey & Rottman, 2005). However, rather than focus on one particular crime, community courts deal with a number of mostly misdemeanor public order offenses, such as prostitution, vandalism, minor assault, and criminal trespass (Malkin, 2005). Another defining characteristic is that many community courts tend to be located in residential urban communities rather than the commercial or downtown area of a city (Berman & Fox, 2005).

The first community court was the Midtown Community Court created in Manhattan, New York, in 1993. It handled minor public order offenses or “quality-of-life” crimes such as prostitution, shoplifting, drug possession, and vandalism. Themain purpose of this courtwas to not only punish but also help the offender. Offenders were punished through visible community service or restitution sentences. They received help through on-site social services such as drug treatment, job training, and counseling (Kralstein, 2007).

E. Other Specialty Courts

While drug, domestic violence, mental health, and community courts are the most recognized problem-solving courts, others involving specialized caseloads have been created in the United States and around the world. San Diego created a homeless court in 1989 (Davis, 2003). Some states operate teen or youth courts where juveniles act as the various court officials in cases involving other teens who have committed minor offenses (Acker, Hendrix, Hogan, & Kordzek, 2001). New York City created a gun court to deal with felony gun possession cases. Using a single judge and specially trained prosecutors, city officials hope that the gun court will “provide swift and certain justice to offenders who violate gun laws” (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005, p. 130). South Africa, reported to have the highest incidence of sexual assault in the world, created a sex offender court in 1993 (Walker & Louw, 2003).

Parole reentry courts are another emerging problem-solving court. A number of states have created them with the intent of addressing the problems of parolees returning to the community (Maruna & LeBel, 2003). The Harlem Parole Reentry Court was started in June 2001.This court supervises the returning parolees in Harlem, in NewYork City, who have served prison sentences for nonviolent drug felonies. This reentry court shares similar characteristics with other problem-solving courts. An administrative law judge monitors parolee compliance with parole conditions. The court implements a system of sanctions or rewards for violations or compliance. Court personnel work collaboratively with parole authorities and treatment or community service providers. These community and treatment providers assist in areas of substance abuse treatment, job training, employment, housing assistance, and family counseling (Farole, 2007).

Evaluations done on drug courts have focused on both processes and outcomes. A number of process evaluations examined the characteristics of drug court programs. Goldkamp, White, and Robinson (2001b) identified two main ways defendants entered drug court programs. Participants in some programs entered the drug court after they were arrested but before they were officially charged. If they successfully completed the program, charges were not filed and some were able to get their arrests expunged. Other programs allowed defendants to enter the drug court program only after pleading guilty to criminal charges, and they worked through the program as convicted participants. Their successful completion yielded reduced sentences.

Another process evaluation by Belenko and Dembo (2003) examined juvenile drug courts and found that they were organized in the same manner as adult drug courts. They found that critical elements of juvenile drug courts included dedicated courtrooms, judicial supervision of treatment, judicial monitoring of participant progress and compliance, collaboration between court officers and community treatment providers, and sentence reduction or case dismissal for successful completion.

Outcome evaluations done on drug courts during the 1990s showed positive results. Most drug courts reported lower recidivism among drug court participants. However, these early evaluations were criticized for failing to use control or comparison groups (Berman et al., 2007). In a review of successful crime prevention policies operating before the year 2000, MacKenzie (2006) identified drug courts as a promising crime prevention policy, but also noted the need for more positive evaluations using more robust methodologies and statistical controls.

Evaluations of drug treatment courts since 2000 have been mostly positive. Goldkamp, White, and Robinson conducted evaluations of drug courts in Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Their first study (2001a) focused on outcomes and concluded that, in general, graduates of drug courts had substantially lower rearrest rates than nongraduates for up to 2 years after entering the program. However, when they used various statistical controls, they found that the positive results for graduates were not consistent from year to year and were impacted by outside factors such as changes in political leadership.

Roman and Harrell (2001) conducted a cost-benefit analysis of a Washington, D.C., drug court program. They found a statistically significant reduction in crimes committed by drug court participants compared to nonparticipants. They found that every dollar spent on drug court programs yielded 2 dollars in crime reduction savings.

A 2003 evaluation of six New York drug courts reported significant reductions in recidivism compared to control groups. This study tracked the arrest rates of the drug court participants and the control group members for 3 years. A randomized study of the Baltimore City Treatment Court also showed significant reductions in recidivism over a period of 3 years (Berman et al., 2007).

Galloway and Drapela (2006) conducted an evaluation of a drug court in a small nonmetropolitan county in northwest Washington. They found that graduates of the drug court, when matched with a comparison group of probationers, were less likely to be rearrested. The differences in the arrest rates between the two groups were statistically significant.

O’Keefe and Rempel (2007) conducted an evaluation of the Staten Island Treatment Court in New York. They used a one-to-one matching method of drug court participants with a comparison group of defendants who did not participate in the drug court. While selection for participation was not randomized, participants were closely matched with nonparticipants according to various demographic and crime-related factors. O’Keefe and Rempel reported a 46% reduction in recidivism over 1 year for drug court participants compared to the comparison group. The 18-month rearrest rate for the participants was 25% less. The 18-month reconviction rate for the drug court participants was 44% less than that of the nonparticipants.

Recent review or meta-analysis studies have also shown reduced recidivism for drug court graduates. Belenko (2001) conducted a review of 37 published and unpublished evaluations of drug courts between 1999 and April 2001. Most of the studies reported lower recidivism for drug court participants. Three of the studies used random assignment between participation in the drug court and control groups and they all reported lower recidivism for drug court participants. D. Wilson, Mitchell, and MacKenzie (2002) conducted a review of 42 drug court evaluations and found that 37 reported lower recidivism rates for drug court participants compared to nonparticipating defendants in control groups.

A general consensus now exists that drug courts are an effective crime prevention policy. Berman et al. (2007) stated that drug courts “generally produce significant reductions in recidivism” (p. 20). Cissner and Rempel (2007) concluded that “adult drug courts significantly reduce recidivism, although the level of impact varies over time and by court” (p. 31).

There have not been many rigorous evaluations of domestic violence courts. The evaluations that have been done demonstrate encouraging results for victims and mixed results for defendants. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to receive advocacy assistance and other services from domestic violence courts. Victims have expressed more satisfaction with domestic violence courts than with traditional criminal courts. Some studies of domestic violence courts found significant reductions in case dismissal rates, increases in the percentage of defendants ordered to participate in batterer programs, and increases in jail sentences for domestic violence offenders. There have been differing results on recidivism of offenders. Some studies found lower recidivism rates, while other studies found no reduction in recidivism (Gavin & Puffett, 2007).

Mirchandani (2006) conducted an extensive review of the Salt Lake City domestic violence court and identified three procedural innovations that helped encourage offender responsibility. The first innovation was a common plea agreement where defendants received suspended sentences in exchange for agreeing to a court order to complete 26 weekly sessions of counseling. The second innovation was a three-stage review system by the court that required offenders to provide proof of their compliance and progress in counseling. Offenders were required to provide evidence of their having made contact with the counseling agency within 10 days. Furthermore, they had to provide a 30-day progress report and a 6-month completion report to the court. The third innovation used by the Salt Lake domestic violence court required that the same court personnel handle all domestic violence cases. Over time, these officials developed expertise and familiarity with all other stakeholders invo lved in trying to combat domestic violence in Salt Lake City.

Gover, Brank, and McDonald (2007) evaluated a domestic violence court in South Carolina. They found that compared with defendants processed in traditional courts, defendants processed in a domestic violence court were significantly less likely to be rearrested for domestic violence. Gover et al. conducted 50 victim and 50 defendant interviews of participants in the domestic violence court. Both groups expressed satisfaction with their experiences in the court and were generally satisfied with the outcomes of their cases.

Labriola, Rempel, and Davis (2007) conducted a randomized trial study of the different approaches used in domestic violence courts. Participant offenders were randomly assigned to different groups with some receiving batterer treatment, others receiving high levels of judicial monitoring, and others with less judicial monitoring. These various treatment groups were then matched with a comparison group of offenders who received neither batterer treatment nor judicial monitoring. The groups were tracked for 1 year after sentencing. Labriola et al. found no reduction in rearrests for those in batterer programs as well as no difference in recidivism based on the levels of judicial monitoring.

Cissner (2007) completed an evaluation of a teen domestic violence court in Brooklyn, New York. This court adjudicated domestic violence offenders who were between the ages of 16 and 19. The evaluation contained no measures of recidivism and primarily documented the challenges of implementing a teen domestic violence court. These challenges included having trouble identifying and flagging eligible cases to be referred to the teen domestic violence court, gaining full cooperation and maintaining communication with all court actors and team members, having uniform agreement on a set of clear goals and objectives, and establishing contact with teenage victims.

Because these courts are relatively new, there have been few evaluations completed (Casey & Rottman, 2005). The evaluations available have mostly focused on characteristics of offenders (Steadman, Redlich, Griffin, Petrila, & Monahan, 2005). One such evaluation of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court showed that the participants were mostly male, African American, single, and had poor work histories and education. A majority of them had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric purposes at least once in their lives. At some point in the year prior to their arrests, 15% of them had been homeless. Most of the participants had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. Almost half of them were diagnosed with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders (O’Keefe, 2007).When asked in their 1-year interview, participants of the Brooklyn study indicated high levels of satisfaction with various aspects of their treatment. Outcome measures, done without a comparison group, showed mostly positive impacts of the court on measures of psychosocial functioning, homelessness, substance abuse, hospitalizations, service utilization, and recidivism (O’Keefe, 2007).

A few evaluations have been done of community courts. Kralstein (2007) conducted a review of seven evaluations done of four different community courts. The four courts were the Midtown Community Court in Manhattan, New York; the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York; the Hennepin County Community Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Hartford Community Court in Hartford, Connecticut. Kralstein reported that the evaluations consisted of surveys of community residents, offender interviews or focus groups, and larger-scale quantitative analysis using administrative court data.

Evaluations of both the Midtown and Hennepin courts showed that offenders were held more accountable in the community court compared to traditional courts. Offenders in the Midtown court were much more likely to receive community service or treatment sentences as compared to the more likely “time-served sentence” in the traditional Manhattan centralized court. The compliance rate for offenders was 75% in the Midtown court, which was 50% higher than the Manhattan court. Community surveys in Minneapolis showed that residents gave high marks for offender compliance with community service sentences from the Hennepin court. Community perceptions were high for both the Midtown and Hennepin courts in that majorities of citizens expressed willingness to pay more taxes to support their community courts. A high majority of residents in the Red Hook community reported positive views of their community court. Offender perceptions were mostly positive in studies done for the Midtown, Red Hook, and Hartford courts. Evaluations of the Midtown court found that prostitution arrests decreased 56% when processed through the community court. Midtown also reported a 24% reduction of illegal vending arrests and reduced arrests for offenders who had completed at least 90 days of court-mandated drug treatment.

Many of the emerging problem-solving courts have not been around long enough for many evaluations to be completed. One exception is the evaluation of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court (Farole, 2007). Farole found that the use of caseworkers in the reentry court improved communication between parole and treatment or service providers. Parolees participating in the Harlem reentry court tended to have greater access to various services to assist them in their transition. The reentry court parolees were matched with a comparison group of similar parolees who were not supervised by a reentry court. Regarding recidivism outcome measures, there was only one statistically significant difference between the two groups: The reentry court parolees had a reduced conviction rate on new nondrug offenses. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups on new drug convictions or reincarceration rates.

VI. Future Directions

The types and number of problem-solving courts will continue to increase. Officials are concerned with backlogs of court cases in the traditional criminal courts. This concern, combined with the generally accepted view that problem-solving courts are successful, will fuel the growth of problem-solving courts. Although relatively new in their appearance on the scene, problem-solving courts are now located in all 50 states (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). The types of problem-solving courts will also continue to increase. If specialized courts can be created for drug, domestic violence, and mentally ill offenders, then they can also be created for the many other types of offenders. Victims’ rights organizations, like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), are sure to call for the creation of specialized DWI or DUI courts. If society believes that specialized sex offender courts will be successful at improving public safety and increasing offender accountability, they will surely come to be created and operating in most states. Continuing good research on problem-solving courts is needed. Drug courts have been around the longest and are the most numerous of the problem-solving courts. They are also the courts that have been researched the most. Evaluations conducted in the first decade of their existence rarely used control conditions. However, more recent evaluation research has included comparison or control groups. Because of this better research, a general consensus has formed that drug courts are successful crime prevention tools. This focus on good research needs to expand to the other established and emerging problem-solving courts. Domestic violence, mental health, and community courts need to be subject to repeated evaluations using rigorous methodologies, testing whether their objectives are being met. Decisions as to the continuation of these problem-solving courts should be primarily based on the effectiveness of these courts in actually accomplishing what they were intended to.

VII. Conclusion

The last 20 years have seen the creation and proliferation of problem-solving courts. These courts are different from the traditional criminal court in that they have specialized dockets, create a collaborative relationship between traditional court actors and outside organizations, and attempt to solve social problems rather than focus only on adjudicating cases. Evaluations of these courts are mostly positive, showing reduced recidivism among some types of offenders. Continued research is needed to justify the existence and growth of problem-solving courts.


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  • Cissner, A. B., & Rempel, M. (2007). The state of drug court research: Moving beyond “Do they work?” In G. Berman, M. Rempel,&R.V.Wolf (Eds.),Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 23–50). NewYork: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Davis, W. N. (2003). Special problems for specialty courts. ABA Journal, 89, 32–37.
  • Dorf, M. C., & Fagan, J. (2003). Problem-solving courts: From innovation to institutionalization. American Criminal Law Review, 40, 1501–1511.
  • Farole, D. J., Jr. (2007). The Harlem Parole Reentry Court: Implementation and preliminary impact. In G. Berman, M. Rempel, & R. V. Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 319–328). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Galloway, A. L., & Drapela, L. A. (2006). Are effective drug courts an urban phenomenon? Considering their impact on recidivism among a nonmetropolitan adult sample in Washington State. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50, 280–293.
  • Gavin, C., & Puffett, N. K. (2007). Specialized domestic violence courts in New York City: A comparative study. In G. Berman, M. Rempel, & R. V. Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 127–161). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Goldkamp, J. S. (2000). The drug court response: Issues and implications for justice change. Albany Law Review, 63, 923–961.
  • Goldkamp, J. S., White, M. D., & Robinson, J. B. (2001a). Context and change: The evolution of pioneering drug courts in Portland and LasVegas (1991–1998). Law & Policy, 23, 141–170.
  • Goldkamp, J. S., White, M. D., & Robinson, J. B. (2001b). Do drug courts work? Getting inside the drug court black box. Journal of Drug Issues, 31, 27–72.
  • Goldstein, H. (1979). Improving policing: A problem-oriented approach. Crime & Delinquency, 25, 236–258.
  • Gover, A. R., Brank, E. M., & MacDonald, J. M. (2007). A specialized domestic violence court in South Carolina. Violence Against Women, 13, 603–626.
  • Hora, P. F. (2002). A dozen years of drug treatment courts: Uncovering our theoretical foundation and the construction of a mainstream paradigm. Substance Use & Misuse, 37, 1469–1488.
  • Jeffries, S. (2005). How justice gets done: Politics, managerialism, consumerism, and therapeutic jurisprudence. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 17, 254–268.
  • Kralstein, D. (2007). Community court research: A literature review. In G. Berman, M. Rempel, & R. V. Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 211–218). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Labriola,M., Rempel,M., & Davis, R. C. (2007).Testing the effectiveness of batterer programs and judicial monitoring: Results froma randomized trial in the Bronx. InG. Berman,M. Rempel, & R. V. Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 163–173). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Luskin, M. L. (2001). Who is diverted? Case selection for court-monitored mental health treatment. Law & Policy, 23, 217–236.
  • MacKenzie, D. L., (2006). Reducing the criminal activities of known offenders and delinquents: Crime prevention in the courts and corrections. In L. W. Sherman, D. P. Farrington, B. C.Welsh,&D. L.MacKenzie (Eds.), Evidence-based crime prevention (Rev. ed., pp. 330–404). London: Routledge.
  • Malkin, V. (2005). The end of welfare as we know it. Critique of Anthropology, 25, 361–388.
  • Maruna, S., & LeBel, T. P. (2003). Welcome home? Examining the reentry court concept from a strengths-based perspective. Western Criminology Review, 4, 91–107.
  • McCoy, C. (2003). The politics of problem-solving: An overview of the origins and development of therapeutic courts. American Criminal Law Review, 40, 1513–1534.
  • Mirchandani, R. (2005). What’s so special about specialized courts? The state and social change in Salt Lake City’s domestic violence court. Law & Society Review, 39, 379–418.
  • Mirchandani, R. (2006). Hitting is not manly: Domestic violence court and the re-imagination of the patriarchal state. Gender & Society, 20, 781–804.
  • O’Keefe, K. (2007). The Brooklyn Mental Health Court: Implementation and outcomes. In G. Berman, M. Rempel, & R.V.Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problemsolving justice (pp. 281–318). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • O’Keefe, K., & Rempel, M. (2007). Evaluation of the Staten Island Treatment Court: Implementation and impacts. In G. Berman, M. Rempel, & R. V. Wolf (Eds.), Documenting results: Research on problem-solving justice (pp. 75–100). New York: Center for Court Innovation.
  • Olson, D. E., Lurigio, A. J., & Albertson, S. (2001). Implementing the key components of specialized drug treatment courts: Practice and policy considerations. Law & Policy, 23, 171–196.
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  • Trupin, E., & Richards, H. (2003). Seattle’s mental health courts: Early indicators of effectiveness. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 26, 33–53.
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(Last updated March 2024)  In August 2023, the Commission identified as one of its final priorities "the “[c]ompilation and dissemination of information on court-sponsored programs relating to diversion, alternatives-to-incarceration, and reentry ( e.g. , Pretrial Opportunity Program, Conviction And Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Program, Special Options Services (SOS) Program, Supervision to Aid Re-entry (STAR) Program) through the Commission’s website and possible workshops and seminars sharing best practices for developing, implementing, and assessing such programs.”  With this priority, the Commission continues its ongoing work in the area of alternatives to incarceration.

The Commission received a considerable amount of public comment supporting the “[c]ompilation and dissemination of information on court-sponsored programs relating to diversion, alternatives-to-incarceration, and reentry...through the Commission’s website.”

This page provides a collection of publicly available resources that have informed and are a product of the Commission's 2023-2024 policy priority work thus far. It will be updated periodically as the Commission continues its work in this area. The Commission recognizes that the needs and resources of stakeholders and participants are unique to each district. Therefore, the Commission believes that these programs are best developed at a grassroots level. The information provided on this webpage is intended to support such development.

Follow along with the work of the 2023-2024 Alternatives-to-Incarceration Policy Team in this Commission Chats miniseries, featuring the federal judges who lead the problem-solving court programs available around the country. Parts One through Eight are out now! (Latest episode published April 2024) Listen Here

Current Landscape

Federal problem-solving-courts can include both front-end and reentry programs.  Types of front-end programs vary by district and can include: 1) pretrial diversion with deferred prosecution, 2) post-plea/pre-sentence programs that defer sentencing, or 3) both.  Federal problem-solving courts can address a number of individual issues such as substance use and mental health, and some courts address more than one issue.  Federal problem-solving courts can also focus on specific groups of individuals such as veterans and young adults.

In recent years, the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) has been providing in-district training and technical assistance, by request, to districts in all phases of their development and operation of federal problem-solving courts. [1]   The FJC also offers a rigorous national training program for problem-solving courts.  The FJC’s assistance enables districts to continuously improve their problem-solving courts by, for example, revising incentive and sanction programs. Importantly, in this role, the FJC seeks to promote conformity with best practice standards created by All Rise.  The All Rise standards are based on an extensive literature review of problem-solving courts and provide evidence-based guidance on target populations, incentives and sanctions, treatment plans, etc.  As a result of adopting these standards, the ATIs operating across the various districts are typically alike insofar as they act within the framework of these best practices.

The map below displays active federal problem-solving courts (as of July 2023).  Links to district-specific sentencing data are provided with available problem-solving court information for each district.

what is a problem solving court

The Commission has also begun collecting program-specific documentation for public dissemination.  The Commission collaborated with chief judges, clerks of court, and chief probation officers from all 94 federal judicial districts to compile information on any existing or planned problem-solving court programs.  Supporting program documents received by the Commission as of November 2023 are available below for reference.  The number and type of available documents varies by program.  Therefore, the number and type of documents provided below also varies.  The Commission will update the table as it continues to receive program documents for public dissemination.

Commission Reports

The Commission has published several reports on alternatives to incarceration over the years.  The 2009 and 2015 Commission reports, Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System , focused on trends for United States citizen offenders in prison-only sentences versus alternative sentencing options specifically provided for in the Guidelines Manual ( i.e. , probation-only sentences, probation-and-confinement sentences, and prison/community split sentences). [2]   The 2017 report, Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration Court Programs [3] was the Commission’s first published work analyzing the nature of these emerging programs and some of the legal and social science issues related to them.

Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System (2009)

The 2009 report used fiscal year 2007 data, which showed that prison-only sentences accounted for 81.1 percent of sentences imposed on United States citizens during that time.  The report found that the “sentencing zone ultimately determine[d] whether offenders [we]re sentenced to alternatives.”  “[G]uideline offense level and Criminal History Category, alone or in combination, [we]re the principal factors determining whether an offender receive[d] an alternative sentence.”  While “[s]ome additional guideline and demographic characteristics also [we]re associated with offenders’ receipt of an alternative sentence,” those factors also were “associated with one or both of the zone determinants.”

Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System (2015)

The 2015 report built on the 2009 report and analyzed alternative sentencing trends in the wake of Gall v. United States [4] and the Zone B and C expansion.  It explained that “[d]espite the array of sentencing options available to sentencing courts, there have been decreases during the past ten years [2005–2014] in both the proportion of offenders eligible for [alternative] sentences, as well as in the proportion of such sentences imposed for those eligible.”  While there had been “a steady overall increase in sentences below the guideline range due to downward departures or variances” after United States v. Booker [5] and Gall , the increased use of sentencing courts’ discretion “ha[d] not resulted in the imposition of higher rates of alterative sentences as one might expect.”  The report concluded that this decreasing trend was “in part . . . due to the Commission’s 2010 expansion of Zones B and C on the Sentencing Table,” explaining that this expansion “introduced relatively more serious offenders into Zones B and C” and that “[o]ffenders with sentencing ranges in the expanded cells received alternative sentences at lower rates compared to offenders with sentencing ranges in previously existing cells.” 

Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration Court Programs (2017)

The Commission published a 2017 report on federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs.  The report summarized the nature of existing federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs and highlighted several legal and social science issues relating to them.  The Commission’s analysis was qualitative rather than quantitative because of a lack of available empirical data about the programs.  The qualitative analysis included an in-depth focus on five programs: (1) the BRIDGE Court Program in the District of South Carolina; (2) the Conviction and Sentence Alternative (CASA) Program in the Central District of California; (3) the Pretrial Alternatives to Detention Initiative (PADI) in the Central District of Illinois; (4) the Repair, Invest, Succeed, Emerge (RISE) Program in the District of Massachusetts; and (5) the Sentencing Alternatives Improving Lives (SAIL) Program in the Eastern District of Missouri.  The report provided a discussion of legal issues related to the court programs, including how they fit within the legal framework of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. [6]   The report concluded by identifying several questions about the federal court programs that policymakers and courts should consider in deciding whether, and if so how, such programs should operate in the federal criminal justice system in the future.  

Additional Resources

Two evaluations of federal ATI programs are relevant to the current priority:

  • For a summary of an FJC “multi-year evaluation of five federal model reentry court programs,”  see Timothy D. DeGiusti, Innovative Justice: Federal Reentry Drug Courts How Should We Measure Success? , 82 Fed. Prob. J. (2018).  
  • Laura Baber, et. al.’s Expanding the Analysis:  Alternatives to Incarceration across 13 Federal Districts [7] is the most recent and comprehensive evaluation of federal front-end programs, to the exclusion of reentry courts.  It is a multi-district analysis that focuses on short-term outcomes of federal front-end courts. [8]   This study built on a prior study of ATI programs in seven districts. [9]  
  • Additional relevant information:
  • A Viable Alternative? Alternatives to Incarceration Across Seven Federal Districts
  • Corrigendum to “A Viable Alternative? Alternatives to Incarceration Across Several Federal Districts”
  • Second Report to the Board of Judges on Alternatives to Incarceration 2015
  • Beyond Recidivism: An Outcome Evaluation of A Federal Reentry Court and A Critical Discussion of Outcomes that Matter
  • All Rise, Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards Volume I and Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards Volume II.
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office, Adult Drug Court Programs: Factors Related to Eligibility and Acceptance of Offers to Participate in DOJ Funded Adult Drug Courts
  • SAMSHA, Best Practices for Successful Reentry From Criminal Justice Settings for People Living With Mental Health Conditions and/or Substance Use Disorders
  • U.S. Department of Justice Policies
  • National Institute of Justice
  • National Center for State Courts
  • National Treatment Court Resource Center
  • National Reentry Resource Center

[1]   Telephone Interview with Christina Ruffino, Senior Education Specialist, Fed. Jud. Ctr. (Oct. 5, 2022) [hereinafter Ruffino Interview].

[2]   Courtney Semisch, U.S. Sent’g Comm’n, Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System (2009); Courtney R. Semisch, U.S. Sent’g Comm’n, Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System (2015).

[3]   Brent E. Newton, U.S. Sent’g Comm’n, Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration Court Programs (2017).

[4]   552 U.S. 38 (2007).  In Gall , the Court affirmed as “reasonable” the district court’s sentence of probation, which was a substantial downward variance from the guideline-recommended sentencing range of 30–37 months of incarceration.  (“On abuse-of-discretion review, the Court of Appeals should have given due deference to the District Court’s reasoned and reasonable decision that the [18 U.S.C.] § 3553(a) factors, on the whole, justified the sentence.”).  The Commission’s 2009 report analyzed data only through the end of fiscal year 2007, which predated the Court’s decision in Gall .

[5]   543 U.S. 220 (2005).

[6]   Pub. L. No. 98-473, Title II, ch. II, 98 Stat. 2032.

[7]   Laura Baber, Kevin Wolff, Johnathan Muller, Christine Dozier, and Roberto Cordeiro, Expanding the Analysis: Alternatives to Incarceration across 13 Federal Districts , 85  Fed. Prob. J.  (2021).

[8]   In the study’s conclusion, the authors note plans “to perform a recidivism analysis of ATI participants who are no longer in the federal justice system” using criminal history data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  However, that study was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has not yet been rescheduled due to current budget constraints. Ruffino Interview.

[9]   Laura Baber, Kevin Wolff, Johnathan Muller, Christine Dozier, and Roberto Cordeiro, A Viable Alternative? Alternatives to Incarceration across Seven Federal Districts , 83  Fed. Prob. J.  (2019). Districts and programs included the original study were: Sentencing Alternatives Improving Lives (SAIL) program, Eastern District of Missouri; the Conviction Alternatives Program, Northern District of California; the Conviction and Sentencing Alternatives program (CASA), Central District of California; Alternatives to Detention Initiative (PADI), Central District of Illinois, the Young Adult Opportunity Program, Southern District of New York; the Pretrial Opportunity Program (POP), Eastern District of New York; the Special Options Services program (SOS), Eastern District of New York; and the Pretrial Opportunity Program (POP), New Jersey.

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The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law

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The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law

25 Rehabilitative Justice: Problem-Solving Courts

Shelby Arnold, Beck Institute

Alice Thornewill, Independent Practice

Kirk Heilbrun, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Drexel University

David DeMatteo, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Thomas R. Kline School of Law, Drexel University R. Kline School of Law, Drexel University

  • Published: 23 February 2023
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This chapter reviews the context, history, and development of problem-solving courts. We describe common components, the Risk-Needs-Responsivity model and clinical interventions, the range of courts and their unique focus, along with the strengths and limitations of the problem-solving court model. We then review the research base for key types of problem-solving courts (e.g., drug courts and mental health courts), with a focus on meta-analytic research whenever possible and a discussion of methodological challenges and limitations of the literature. The chapter also highlights the ethical and legal considerations for problem-solving courts and outlines areas for future research and development.

The overrepresentation of individuals with behavioral health challenges in the criminal justice system is striking. An estimated 25–40 percent of individuals with mental health disorders will become involved with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives ( Hasselbrack, 2001 ), and a recent estimate found that approximately 1 million individuals with a major mental disorder are currently justice involved ( Peterson et al., 2014 ). These figures increase when substance abuse is taken into account, with more than 80 percent of criminal offenders presenting with a substance-related offense or a substance abuse problem ( DeMatteo et al., 2015 ).

Research indicates, however, that mental illness does not have a clear or direct relationship with criminal offending ( Andrews et al., 2006 ). Rather, offenders with mental illness may be more likely to recidivate based on factors such as insecure housing, lack of employment, ongoing substance abuse problems, and victimization ( Skeem et al., 2011 ). With regard to substance abuse, research shows that an estimated 95 percent of offenders relapse within three years of release from incarceration ( DeMatteo et al., 2015 ). These data are concerning given the high rates of recidivism among offenders with substance abuse problems, with some studies showing a 200–400 percent increase in reoffense risk for substance-using offenders ( Bennett et al., 2008 ). Research also shows that co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are related to even higher levels of recidivism and criminogenic risk (e.g., Balyakina et al., 2014 ).

This chapter focuses on problem-solving courts, a judicial intervention developed to address the high rates of offenders with behavioral health challenges. We begin by discussing common elements, strengths, and limitations across various types of problem-solving courts. We then review the research for key types of problem-solving courts, with a focus on meta-analytic research whenever possible and a discussion of methodological challenges and limitations of the literature. Finally, we discuss the ethical and legal considerations for problem-solving courts and areas for future research and development.

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Alternatives to Standard Prosecution

The overrepresentation of mental health and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system can be usefully considered through the model of therapeutic jurisprudence, a rehabilitative legal approach that relies on behavioral science to increase the therapeutic impact of the legal system ( Winick, 2013 ; Wexler & Winick, 1996 ). Problem-solving justice represents an outgrowth of therapeutic jurisprudence and is guided by the following principles: (1) enhanced information to allow courts to make more informed decisions regarding rehabilitation; (2) increased community engagement, especially between justice-involved individuals and the public; (3) collaboration between legal partners and community stakeholders; (4) individualized approach to treatment and legal consequences; (5) increased accountability and monitoring for justice-involved individuals; and (6) ongoing research to evaluate effectiveness of problem-solving interventions and facilitate ongoing improvements (see Berman, 2009 ; Wolf, 2007 ).

Standard criminal justice processing for offenders with mental health or substance use challenges has not produced significant improvement in terms of drug abuse, mental health, or recidivism rates ( Heilbrun et al., 2012 ). Partly as a result, a paradigm shift toward a rehabilitative justice model has been taking place over the last two decades that has included the development of a variety of alternative methods to standard prosecution. These alternative methods typically consist of individualized interventions tailored to address the unique behavioral health needs and specific risk factors of certain offenders ( DeMatteo et al., 2013 ). This rehabilitative approach aims to identify and target the criminogenic and behavioral health needs of an offender, and as a result reduce the likelihood of future offending ( Skeem & Monahan, 2011 ).

History and Development of Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts (PSCs) were developed for offenders with mental health and substance use disorders. PSCs are an alternative to standard prosecution that focus on treating the psychological issues underlying criminal behavior. In 1989, the first PSC was established in Dade Country, Florida. This court, a drug court, targeted the revolving door of drug-related cases facing criminal courts in that county. Since then, there has been a proliferation of drugs courts across the country. As of 2016, there were more than 3,000 operational drugs courts in the United States serving more than 125,000 offenders each year ( Marlowe et al., 2016 ). These drug courts were unique from typical criminal courts in that they provided judicial oversight over treatment, mandatory drug testing, and rehabilitative treatment. On the heels of the rapid growth and success of drug courts came the development of several other types of PSCs, including mental health courts, veterans courts, DUI courts, family dependency courts, co-occurring disorder courts, reentry courts, gambling courts, community courts, truancy courts, and domestic violence courts.

Given the distinctive nature of PSCs, only certain offenders are eligible for participation; violent offenders or those with certain charges (e.g., sex offenses and arson) are typically precluded ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). However, there is substantial variability among PSCs in terms of inclusion/exclusion criteria for participants. Some PSCs accept participants with certain types of felony charges whereas others only include those with misdemeanors ( Hiday & Ray, 2010 ). Some PSCs require participants to plead guilty as a condition of participation whereas others do not have any plea requirements ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). Mental health courts typically require that participants have a DSM-5 ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , 5th edition) diagnosis, whereas participants in drugs courts typically need an established substance use history ( Wolff et al., 2011 ). Finally, PSC participants are typically required to agree to comply with prescribed treatment and heightened court supervision.

General Strengths and Limitations of Problem-Solving Courts

To better understand the nature of the specific types of PSCs (discussed later in this chapter), it is useful to describe the strengths and limitations of these courts. In terms of strengths, empirical evidence suggests that the PSC model is effective in addressing drug use, mental health symptoms, and recidivism. Moreover, these courts increase offender access to treatment and services, lead to better-informed judges and legal actors, and enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system ( Berman & Feinblatt, 2002 ). Moreover, the public appears to support the paradigm shift away from traditional punishment and toward a rehabilitative model. Criticisms include concerns about potential violations of the constitutional rights of participants, a lack of clarity on how to blend traditional roles of legal actors with the collaborative team approach, and potential judicial overreach ( Berman & Feinblatt, 2002 ).

Problem-Solving Court Stakeholders

Given the distinctive nature of PSCs, stakeholders, including the judge, defense attorney, prosecutor, case managers, and community treatment providers, play unique roles. PSC judges work collaboratively with the legal actors and community providers to address the needs of participants, a major departure from the standard criminal court approach that involves imposing a punishment based almost entirely on the defendant’s charge (Wolf, 2007). While the judge takes a more active role, defense attorneys in PSCs typically take a less active role to allow the participant and judge to communicate and support the treatment recommendations of the PSC team ( Berman & Feinblatt, 2002 ). Prosecutors are also encouraged to relinquish the adversarial approach and work collaboratively with defense attorneys and the rest of the team ( Faraci, 2004 ). PSCs often include case managers to gather detailed information about the mental health and/or substance use issues of participants and help legal stakeholders make informed treatment decisions ( Wolf, 2007 ). Finally, active involvement of community treatment providers is essential to facilitate treatment referrals, educate legal actors, and provide services ( Wolf, 2007 ).

The Risk–Needs–Responsivity Model and Clinical Interventions

The aim of PSCs is to reduce recidivism by targeting behavioral health needs underlying criminal behavior, so it is important to understand the risk–need–responsivity (RNR) model as a framework for evaluating criminogenic risk factors and addressing clinical needs ( Andrews et al., 1990 ). According to the risk principle, those with higher risk levels should receiver higher levels of intervention or treatment ( Andrews et al., 1990 ). The need principle posits that treatment should target an individual’s specific criminogenic risk factors, which may include antisocial personality patterns, criminal thinking, problematic peer relationships, substance abuse, poor family relationships, limited educational/vocational achievements, and lack of prosocial leisure activities ( Andrews et al., 2006 ). Finally, according to the responsivity principle, treatment should be evidence-based and individualized to meet the unique needs of each individual ( Andrews et al., 2006 ).

Several empirically-supported interventions may be used in PSCs. Cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) interventions focus on identifying and reframing distorted thoughts that may cause distressing emotions and in turn lead to problematic behavior ( Beck, 1976 ). In criminal justice settings, CBT interventions may help offenders identify and reframe criminal thinking, such as justification of offending behavior, blame displacement, entitlement, or irrational optimism ( Heilbrun et al., 2016 ; Lipsey et al., 2007 ). Such interventions also focus on skill developing, such as anger management, relapse prevention, and social skills training ( Lipsey et al., 2007 ). Examples of justice-specific CBT interventions include Thinking for a Change (Bush et al., 1997) and Reasoning and Rehabilitation (Ross et al., 1986) .

Problem-solving interventions are used to address poor problem-solving skills that may lead to risky behavior patterns such as drug use or aggression ( Heilbrun et al., 2016 ). These interventions focus on training based on cognitive problem-solving models (e.g., Spivack et al., 1976 ) and therapy using the social problem-solving framework (e.g., D’Zurilla & Goldfried, 1971 ) to help offenders recognize problematic thinking and develop skills to apply in challenging situations. Examples of specific problem-solving interventions include Think First ( McGuire & Hatcher, 2001 ) and Stop & Think ( McMurran et al., 2008 ). Given the relationship between substance use and risk, recommended substance use interventions include therapeutic communities, which incorporate intensive individual and group therapy focused on addiction and developing strategies to manage urges and triggers ( Inciardi et al., 2004 ), or twelve-step programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous) ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ).

Research Summary

The research base supporting the effectiveness of PSCs has grown considerably over the past twenty-five years, but it is not without its challenges and limitations. This section reviews the evidence for key types of PSCs, with a specific focus on large-scale, multisite, and meta-analytic research. Although there are more specific types of PSCs than those addressed below (e.g., gambling courts and gun courts), there was little to no available research on their effectiveness, so they are not included in the summary. We also discuss methodological considerations and shortcomings within the available literature.

Drug Courts

The research base on drug courts is the largest among PSCs and includes several large-scale or meta-analytic reviews. Unlike other types of PSCs, many of these studies also evaluate the impact of drug courts on target clinical outcomes (e.g., substance use and relapse). In general, research supports drug courts as an effective intervention for reducing substance use and recidivism.

Several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) conducted on drug courts show generally positive outcomes (reduced recidivism) for drug court graduates despite some limitations in the data (e.g., Deschenes et al., 1995 ; Gottfredson et al., 2003 ). A fifteen-year follow-up study was recently published for the RCT conducted in Baltimore City’s Drug Treatment Court, and it found reduced rates of arrest, charges, and convictions for drug court participants, but no significant differences in length of time spent incarcerated ( Kearley & Gottfredson, 2020 ).

Summative research on drug courts began approximately ten years after their creation, and these early reports concluded they were successful at reducing recidivism (e.g., Belenko, 2001 ). Numerous studies on individual drug courts have been used as the basis for several key meta-analytic studies, most of which report positive outcomes for drug court graduates. A meta-analysis by Mitchell et al. (2012) included ninety-two evaluations of drug courts and found an average drop in recidivism from 50 percent to 38 percent at a three-year follow-up. Prior meta-analyses that included both experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations showed effect sizes representing an 8–26 percent decrease in recidivism, with most in the 8–14 percent range ( Drake et al., 2009 ; Lowenkamp et al., 2005 ; Shaffer, 2011 ; Wilson et al., 2006 ). Though positive outcomes are seen on a larger scale, individual studies show mixed results, with approximately 15 percent of drug courts showing no significant impact on recidivism ( Logan & Link, 2019 ). Further, a small percentage of programs (6 percent) have been associated with increases in recidivism ( Lowenkamp et al., 2005 ; Shaffer, 2006 ).

Mitchell et al. (2012) conducted the only meta-analysis that includes future substance use as an outcome. However, of the ninety-two studies included in this meta-analysis, only nine incorporated a measure of participants’ substance use in follow-up research and only four looked at adult drug courts ( Mitchell et al., 2012 ). Multisite studies show that drug court graduates experience overall reductions in substance use but not consistently to the extent of statistical significance (e.g., Green & Rempel, 2012 ; Rossman, Rempel, et al., 2011 ).

As noted above, recidivism outcomes are somewhat less promising. In a meta-analysis by Sevigny et al. (2013) , participants were less likely to be reincarcerated but did not show a reduction in the length of time spent incarcerated, suggesting the possibility that those who fail drug court programs face equally long, if not longer, sentences that offset the overall reduction in reincarceration rates. In a recent multisite national study of approximately 2,300 drug court participants, older age and employment emerged as protective factors against rearrests ( Wilson et al., 2018 ).

Some studies have also examined the impact of drug courts on additional social and economic outcomes. The Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE) found that drug courts improve access to educational/vocational and treatment-related services for offenders, and that they positively affect family and other social relationships ( Green & Rempel, 2012 ; Rossman, Rempel, et al., 2011 ). Drug court participation does not appear to have a significant impact on housing, financial status, and mental health ( Rossman, Rempel, et al., 2011 ). Cost-benefit analyses show mixed results on whether drug courts save money for their respective communities ( Belenko et al., 2005 ; Bhati et al., 2008 ; Government Accountability Office, 2011 ).

In summary, the drug court literature is the most well developed of all problem-solving courts. Drug courts appear to be an effect intervention for reducing recidivism, while also improving substance use outcomes for participants. Though the research on additional outcomes (e.g., jail time, social service access, and cost-effectiveness) is mixed, these outcomes are less frequently evaluated and thus would be a useful area for the development of the research base.

Mental Health Courts

The research on mental health courts is notably limited compared to drug courts, especially considering their widespread proliferation. Although many single court studies have been published, very little aggregate research has been conducted. Meta-analyses have a limited sample size due to significant methodological flaws of the individual studies. (For a summary of single-court program evaluations and peer-reviewed articles, see DeMatteo et al., 2019 .)

The focus of meta-analyses and systematic reviews has been on mental health courts’ impact on recidivism. The first meta-analysis of mental health courts included eighteen studies and showed that mental health courts are moderately effective in reducing recidivism ( d = 0.54), but this study had notable limitations in inclusion criteria and statistical methods ( Sarteschi et al., 2011 ). A 2015 systematic review found that most studies (twelve of fifteen) reported significant recidivism reduction for participants ( Honegger, 2015 ). A 2018 meta-analysis (which included studies through 2015) analyzed seventeen studies and found a small effect of mental health court participation on recidivism reduction ( d = 0.20), but the methodological limitations of the individual studies should be considered when interpreting these results ( Lowder et al., 2018 ). An additional meta-analysis that included twenty-four studies supports the conclusion that mental health courts have a small effect on recidivism ( Arnold, 2019 ).

Mental health–related outcomes are a less common focus of research despite being a treatment goal of mental health courts. Less than half of the studies included in meta-analyses evaluated a mental health outcome in addition to a recidivism outcome ( Arnold, 2019 ; Honnegger, 2015). Though many single court studies included a measure of mental health, the heterogeneity of how this was operationally defined (e.g., well-established measures vs. locally developed symptom ratings, connection to treatment services, crisis service utilization, and hospitalization rates) makes it challenging to synthesize findings on a broad level (see DeMatteo et al., 2019 , for a summary).

Overall, the research on mental health courts shows a small to moderate impact on recidivism and suggests promise as an intervention. However, the research base has notable methodological flaws. All the meta-analyses discussed are limited by idiosyncrasies within the individual studies, suggesting that these courts are more challenging to research. Furthermore, the evidence that mental health courts have a positive impact on mental health–related outcomes is limited and mixed, highlighting a need for future research.

Veterans Treatment Courts

There is very little research on veterans treatment courts. There are fewer such courts—and they are relatively new. A survey of fourteen veterans treatment courts conducted just a few years after their inception revealed a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent, but the limited number of graduates across the courts ( N = 59) limits meaningful conclusions ( Holbrook & Anderson, 2011 ). A few single court and large-scale studies show promising reductions in recidivism, but they did not use a comparison group in their analyses and must be interpreted with caution ( Commaroto et al., 2011 ; Tsai et al., 2018 ). Veterans treatment courts show promise in reducing symptoms of substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ( Slattery et al., 2013 ; Tsai et al., 2018 ), but many studies of veterans treatment courts have significant methodological limitations (e.g., use of qualitative or anecdotal data, lack of or biased comparison groups; see Christy et al., 2012 ), and there is a great need for future research to better gauge their effectiveness.

Reentry Courts

Reentry court research is less developed than that of drug courts and mental health courts, with very few multisite or meta-analytic studies. The research focuses primarily on process evaluations or implementation lessons rather than outcomes (Lindquist et al., 2004 , 2013 ). Although some studies report reductions in recidivism rates for participants (e.g., Administrative Office of the Courts, 2012 ; Hamilton 2010 ; Spelman, 2003 ), some research shows poorer outcomes for reentry court participants (e.g., Severson et al., 2011 ; Wilson & Davis, 2006 ). One large-scale multisite study across sixteen reentry courts did not find any significant differences in recidivism between reentry court participants and nonparticipants (Lattimore & Visher, 2009 , 2014 ). However, researchers found improvements across other domains for reentry court participants, such as substance abuse, housing, and employment ( Lattimore & Visher, 2009 ). For a thorough discussion of model reentry courts and a summary of process evaluations, see DeMatteo et al., 2019 . Overall, researchers note that the support for reentry courts is promising, but not enough to draw robust conclusions about their effectiveness ( Lindquist et al., 2013 ; Marlowe et al., 2016 ).

Methodological Challenges

Research supporting PSCs has grown considerably in recent decades, but not all courts are as well studied as others and many evaluations have notable limitations that impact the ability to draw conclusions about effectiveness. Drug courts are well researched and well supported, but the expansion of mental health courts seems to have outpaced the research, though they show promise. There is a small body of research on other types of PSCs (e.g., reentry courts and veterans treatment courts), highlighting a great area of need within the field. PSC research is challenging due to logistical, ethical, and legal concerns, and this section discusses key limitations in the PSC literature.

One key limitation of PSC research is the lack of RCTs (DeMatteo et al., 2011 , 2019 ). True random selection and assignment in these settings is challenging and raises ethical and legal concerns about fair criminal justice processing ( Government Accountability Office, 2005 ). As a result, most PSC evaluations are quasi-experimental, focusing on participants in the court and a similar group of nonparticipants. Although quasi-experimental studies can provide important information, these studies must be interpreted with caution and do not permit defensible causal inferences ( Kazdin, 2017 ).

Within existing studies, sample-related issues also limit generalizability of findings. Many studies are comprised of relatively small samples. This limitation is seen among drug courts (e.g., Latimer et al., 2006 ), mental health courts (e.g., Arnold, 2019 ), reentry courts ( Listswan, 2008 ), and DUI courts ( Miller et al., 2015 ). Small sample size and high attrition rates also complicate the ability to conduct longitudinal research, highlighting an additional limitation of many studies. Further, samples included in PSC research often do not accurately represent the demographic characteristics in the criminal justice system. For example, researchers have observed an overrepresentation of White female participants in drug courts and mental health courts, suggesting that results from studies relying on these samples may not apply to the criminal justice population ( Hiday et al., 2005 ; Sarteschi et al., 2011 ).

Another important limitation of many PSC studies relates to comparison groups. Many published studies do not use a comparison group, and many of the studies that include comparison groups struggle to accurately match samples. Moreover, due to the lack of randomization, there may be unique differences between individuals who choose versus decline to participate in PSCs ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). Differences between groups may also be reflected in idiosyncratic inclusion criteria (e.g., some courts choose to accept only lower-risk offenders), which can skew or artificially inflate positive outcomes ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ).

Another issue frequently raised with PSC research is the process by which data are collected. Critics have suggested researchers rely on biased control groups, withhold data from participants who do not successfully complete court requirements, and overuse self-report measures ( Fischer, 2003 ; Rowland, 2016 ). Further, outcome variables between studies may appear to be similar but may involve differences in how the variables are measured. Also, although recidivism is an important outcome, some studies focus exclusively on recidivism to the exclusion of other important outcomes. Further, although PSCs include many similar elements, there are multiple models for each type of PSC, and the services offered vary based on the resources available in a given community, which impacts the ability to conduct meta-analyses. Finally, research is limited by funding and permissions; many evaluations have been conducted on government-funded courts using government funding, but conducting research on courts without such funding may be challenging.

Legal and Constitutional Issues

Given that PSCs represent a major component of the paradigm shift toward a rehabilitative model within the justice system, particular emphasis must be placed on the legal considerations that accompany these courts. Considerations in this domain include how specialty courts impact constitutional rights in pleadings and competency, the role of the judge and the defense attorney, and the implications for procedural justice.

Constitutional rights are particularly relevant in PSCs because participants are typically required to waive some of their constitutional rights to enter the court (e.g., Hoffman, 1999 ; Nolan, 2003 ). According to the First Amendment’s establishment clause, the state cannot coerce an individual to engage in a religious activity, 1 and several PSCs have been prohibited from requiring participants to engage in treatment programs with religious elements, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. 2 As such, a specialty court may only mandate treatment if participants are presented with a range of treatment programs that include secular options. 3 Specialty courts may ban participants from certain geographical locations or associating with certain people ( Meyer, 2011 ), but restrictions that are not reasonable or not narrowly prescribed may violate the Freedom of Speech and Association Clause of the First Amendment. 4 For instance, a geographical restriction requiring the defendant to avoid any place where alcohol was sold, provided, or consumed was found to be overly broad and thus in violation of the First Amendment by an Ohio appellate court. 5 An overly broad association restriction was identified by an Alaska appellate court when it overturned a requirement that a defendant be prohibited from engaging in any unsupervised interactions with his wife, who was an active drug user. 6

The Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the state from performing searches without probable cause, has also been considered as it relates to PSCs. 7 For instance, the Supreme Court has found it constitutional for drug courts to require participants to waive their Fourth Amendment rights and undergo searches without probable cause as a condition of participating in the court ( Meyer, 2011 ). 8 In addition, courts have found it constitutional to search specialty court participants based on “reasonable suspicion” alone (rather than the stricter standard of probable cause) 9 and to protect public safety. 10 Some courts have found that specialty court participants who waive their Fourth Amendment rights may be searched even without any reason or suspicion of wrongdoing. 11 The Fourth Amendment also protects participants with regard to drug testing, as conditional drug testing must be reasonable and tailored to the participant. 12

Several concerns have arisen regarding the ability PSCs to adhere to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, which entitles all criminal defendants to equal treatment under the law and procedural protections. 13 These concerns include the nonadversarial method, potential paternalism of the judge, and increased oversight over participants’ behaviors ( Meyer, 2011 ).

The nonadversarial approach of PSCs emphasizes collaboration among the legal actors and stakeholders, which raises concerns regarding the defense attorney’s ability to be a zealous advocate, especially as it relates to plea bargaining or interacting with the judge ( Lane, 2002 ). A defense attorney who is collaborating with the prosecutor and the judge to determine the best court of action for the participant may risk losing vigor in exercising their duty to protect the best interests of the defendant.

Similarly, a PSC judge may struggle to adhere to their due process requirement to remain impartial, 14 as PSC judges are not only expected to have an active role in the proceedings,but to engage in informal communications with the PSC team and participant ( Meyer, 2011 ). Although this more involved role may lead to positive outcomes for participants, including individualized treatment plans, it also creates more opportunity for judicial bias and may cloud a judge’s ability to recognize when recusal is appropriate. Based on these considerations, some courts have held that a judge other than the PSC judge overseeing a participant’s case should oversee termination hearings, 15 while other courts have found no need for an alternate judge. 16

The Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause requires that similarly situated individuals be treated equally under the law. 17 As such, this right may be at issue when only certain individuals are permitted to engage in a PSC program. For drug courts, most challenges on this basis have been rejected; courts have found it is permissible for drugs courts to only accept certain individuals on the basis that they have a legitimate government interest in doing so. 18 Similarly, the fact that PSCs are not available in all jurisdictions has not been deemed an equal protection violation. In several cases, the rationale for these findings is that a jurisdiction’s decision to not fund such a court can be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. 19

Given the distinctive nature of PSCs, the role of procedural justice—defined as a defendant’s rights to be treated with respect, have their voice heard in court, and be approached with impartiality—is particularly important. Research demonstrates that PSC participants feel they are treated fairly and respectfully ( Dollar et al., 2018 ; Gottfredson et al., 2007 ; Poythress et al., 2002 ; Redlich & Han, 2014 ; Wales et al., 2010 ). Studies have shown that perceptions of procedural justice in mental health courts is related to improvement of mental health symptoms ( Kopelovich et al., 2013 ), improved coping skills ( Ray & Dollar, 2014 ), and increased compliance ( Redlich & Han, 2014 ). Research on procedural justice within drug courts has produced similar results ( Rossman, Rempel, et al., 2011 ). Notably, however, a recent study found that Black PSC participants perceived significantly less procedural justice than their White counterparts ( Atkin-Plunk et al., in press ).

Future Directions

As more jurisdictions develop PSCs, it is important to clarify best practices in establishing and running these courts. Jurisdictions seeking to establish specialty courts should (1) develop the court based on the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, (2) partner with providers who can administer evidence-based treatment, (3) design courts to meet the specific needs of a jurisdiction, and (4) clearly define the roles of stakeholders involved to effectively shift into a collaborative model.

Those working toward the establishment and expansion of PSCs should focus on incorporating components that have been supported by empirical evidence, specifically the evidence-based RNR model. The RNR model provides a valuable framework for identifying risks and needs and developing appropriate treatment to meet the individual needs of PSC participants ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). Specialty courts should consider using this model to streamline certain elements of PSCs, including establishing efficient processes, defining clear inclusion/exclusion criteria, selecting evidence-based treatments to be used, and identifying clear outcome measures for program evaluation ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ).

As noted above, a major concern in studying PSCs relates to the significant variability among these courts. Not only do the various types of specialty courts differ from one another (i.e., drug courts primarily target substance abuse while mental health courts primarily target psychological disorders), but there is substantial variability within each type of specialty court. Although PSCs broadly adhere to a nonadversarial approach and aim to provide enhanced supervision and treatment to participants, there is wide variability in terms of composition and size of the courts, methods of referrals, inclusion criteria for participation, level/types of community partnerships, use of sanctions/rewards, and levels of oversight/monitoring ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). It is important to recognize this variability and its impact on research and program evaluation.

Although there is a robust and broad evidence base supporting drugs courts, other specialty courts have not been researched to the same extent. As the number of these courts continue to grow, conducting more empirical research will be vital to their success. Specifically, mental health courts could benefit from more large-scale studies and meta-analyses of the current research base. In addition, research and program evaluation should be conducted on the many specialized PSCs that have been established in the last few decades, including reentry courts, veterans courts, domestic violence courts, and gun courts. Such research is essential to determining the effectiveness of these courts on recidivism reduction and improvement of clinical functioning, as well as facilitating future growth and dissemination of problem-solving justice ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ). Finally, perhaps the most important future consideration for PSCs has to do with their chronic underrepresentation of minority populations (see Marlowe et al., 2016 ). Given the rampant racial inequity currently permeating the criminal justice system, researching this underrepresentation and identifying means of combating it should be a top priority ( DeMatteo et al., 2019 ).

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US Const. amend. I.

E.g., Griffin v. Coughlin, 673 N.E.2d 98 (N.Y. 1996); Kerr v. Farrey, 95 F.3d 471 (7th Cir. 1996); Inouya v. Kemma, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007).

American United v. Prison Fellowship, 509 F.3d 406 (8th Cir. 2007); Destefano v. Emergency Hous. Group, Inc., 247 F.3d 397 (2d Cir. 2001); O’Conner v. California, 855 F. Supp. 202 (C.D. Cal. 1994).

E.g., Andrews v. State, 623 S.E.2d 247 (Ga. Ct. App. 2005).

State v. Wright, 739 N.E.2d 1172 (Ohio Ct. App. 2000). For examples of cases where geographical restrictions were upheld, see Johnson v. State, 547 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1989); State v. Morgan, 389 So. 2d 364 (La. 1980).

Dawson v. State, 894 P.2d 672 (Alaska Ct. App. 1995). For examples of cases where association restrictions were upheld, see 623 S.E.2d 247 (Ga. Ct. App. 2005); People v. Jungers, 25 Cal. Rptr. 3d 873 (Ct. App. 2005); People v. Forsythe, 43 P.3d 652 (Colo. Ct. App. 2001).

U.S. Const. amend. IV)

See Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006).

Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 888 (1987).

Payne v. State, 615 S.E. 2d 564 (Ga. Ct. App. 2005); State v. Patton, 119 P.3d 250 (Ore. Ct. App. 2005).

State v. Kouba, 709 N.W. 2d 299 (Minn. Ct. App. 2006); State v. McAuliffe, 125 P.3d 276 (Wyo. 2005).

See Oliver v. United States, 682 A. 2d 186 (D.C. Cir. 1996); State v. Ullring, 741 A.2d 1045, 1045 (Me. 1999); Steiner v. State, 763 N.E. 2d 1024 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).

U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

U.S. Cont. amend. XIV.

Alexander v. State, 48 P.3d 110 (Okla. Crim. App. 2002).

E.g., State v. Belyea, No. 2009-038, 2010 N.H. LEXIS 49 (N.H. May 20, 2010).

U.S. Const. amend. XIV)

E.g., Jim v. State, 911 So. 2d 658 (Miss. Ct. App. 2005); Evans v. State, 667 S.E.2d 183 (Ga. Ct. App. 2008).

State v. Harner, 103 P.3d 738 (Wash. 4002); Lomont v. State, 852 N.E.2d 1002 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006).

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Problem-Solving Courts

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Problem-Solving Courts by Eric J. Miller LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2011 LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0073

Problem-solving courts are a recent and increasingly widespread alternative to traditional models of case management in criminal and civil courts. Defying simple definition, such courts encompass a loosely related group of practice areas and styles. Courts range from those addressing criminal justice issues, such as drug courts, mental health courts, reentry courts, domestic violence courts, and juvenile courts, to those less directly connected with traditional criminal justice issues, including family courts, homelessness courts, and community courts, to name just a few. Most courts, however, share some distinctive common features: channeling offenders away from traditional forms of legal regulation or punishment, relying on a more or less lengthy program of supervision and intervention that utilizes the informal or institutional authority of the judge, and a robust toleration of relapse backed by a graduated series of sanctions directed at altering the participants’ problematic conduct. These courts work to stream participants out of the traditional legal system either at the front end, prior to judgment being entered, or at the back end, as a consequence of entry of judgment, but prior to sentencing or other case disposition. Many, but not all, of these courts subscribe to the practice of either therapeutic or restorative justice (or both).

The major texts listed here are mostly book-length treatments and articles that covering issues common to the problem-solving courts in general by focusing on discrete court styles. Nolan 2001 ; Hora, et al. 1999 ; and Mackinem and Higgins 2008 discuss drug courts, whereas Berman, et al. 2005 ; Casey and Rottman 2005 ; Thompson 2002 ; and Winick 2003 are principally interested in the neighborhood or quality-of-life courts. Furthermore, the authors provide variable depth of treatment, often determined by the type of analysis. Berman, et al. 2005 ; Hora, et al. 1999 ; and Winick 2003 have all played an active role in developing various aspects of problem-solving court practice: they tend to focus on descriptions of court operation and practical impact. Articles written by law professors, social scientists, or anthropologists, such as Thompson 2002 , Mackinem and Higgins 2008 , and Fagan and Malkin 2003 , tend to place problem-solving courts in a more theoretically oriented style of analysis, bringing to bear core legal values, or sociological or cultural critique.

Berman, Greg, and John Feinblatt, with Sarah Glazer. 2005. Good courts: The case for problem-solving justice . New York: New Press.

Broad and accessible overview of problem-solving courts, and in particular those addressing quality-of-life issues, against the background of therapeutic jurisprudence and restorative justice. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

Casey, Pamela M., and David B. Rottman. 2005. Problem-solving courts: Models and trends . Justice System Journal 26.1: 35–56.

Simple and effective overview of the key elements of different styles of problem-solving courts. Suitable for all levels of study

Fagan, Jeffrey, and Victoria Malkin. 2003. Theorizing community justice through community courts . Fordham Urban Law Review 30.3: 897–954.

Seminal examination of the manner in which community courts use the problem-solving method to generate public legitimacy for low-level criminal courts. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

Hora, Peggy Fulton, William G. Schma, John T. A. Rosenthal. 1999. Therapeutic jurisprudence and the drug-treatment court movement: Revolutionizing the criminal justice system’s response to drug abuse and crime in America . Notre Dame Law Review 74.2: 439–538.

One of the essential works on the drug court movement and the use of therapeutic justice in the courtroom. Suitable for undergraduates and graduate students.

Mackinem, Mitchell B., and Paul Higgins. 2008. Drug court: Constructing the moral identity of drug offenders . Springfield, IL: C. C. Thomas.

A thorough and informative study of all aspects of drug-court operation, paying particular attention to the perspective of drug court participants. Suitable for undergraduates and graduate students.

Nolan, James L., Jr. 2001. Reinventing justice: The American drug court movement . Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

The most important single work on drug courts, and a seminal study of the problem-solving movement from a sociological perspective. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

Thompson, Anthony C. 2002. Courting disorder: Some thoughts on community courts. Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 10:63–100.

Discussing the emergence of the community court movement and the features it shares with other forms of problem-solving courts. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

Winick, Bruce J. 2003. Therapeutic jurisprudence and problem solving courts . Fordham Urban Law Journal 30.3: 1055–1103.

Seminal overview of problem-solving courts from the perspective of therapeutic jurisprudence, written by one of the founders of the therapeutic justice movement. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.

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The New York State Unified Court System serves the needs of approximately 19,750,000 people, the fourth-largest state population in the nation. Our 1,200 state judges, 2,400 town and village judges and 15,500 non-judicial employees work in over 300 state courts and 1,300 town and village courts spread throughout 62 counties in 13 judicial districts and hear 3,500,000 filings.

To meet the challenges of such a large system, more than two decades ago, the New York State Unified Court System began to establish problem-solving courts. These courts help judges and court staff to better respond to the needs of litigants and the community. Problem-solving courts look to the underlying issues that bring people into the court system, and employ innovative approaches to address those issues. Through intensive judicial monitoring, coordination with outside services, treatment where appropriate, the removal of barriers between courts and increased communication with stakeholders, these courts are able to change the way our system manages cases and responds to individuals, families and communities.

Problem-solving courts take different forms depending on the problems they are designed to address. Drug and mental health courts focus on treatment and rehabilitation. Community courts combine treatment, community responsibility, accountability, and support to both litigants and victims. Sex offense courts employ judicial monitoring and the use of mandated programs and probation to ensure compliance and facilitate access to services. Human trafficking courts center around victims and many cases are resolved without criminal charges. The Adolescent Diversion parts address the unique needs of adolescents in the criminal justice system.

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Where we stand:.

NAMI believes in minimizing justice-system response to people with mental illness, while ensuring that any interactions preserve health, well-being and dignity. NAMI supports the use of problem-solving courts as part of a broad strategy to reduce incarceration and promote diversion from further involvement in the criminal justice system for people with mental illness.

Why We Care:

People with mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) are overrepresented in our nation’s jails and prisons. An estimated  44%  of people in jails and  37%  of people in prisons have a mental illness, and an estimated  65%  of people in prisons have an underlying SUD. In the veterans’ community,  55%  of the nearly 50,000 veterans incarcerated in local jails report experiencing a mental illness.

Mental illness is not a crime, but untreated symptoms and limited access to care lead many to involvement with the criminal justice system. Many of these individuals are held for committing non-violent, minor offenses and misdemeanors resulting from the symptoms of untreated illness (disorderly conduct, loitering, trespassing, disturbing the peace) or for offenses like shoplifting and petty theft.

Problem-solving courts (also known as specialty courts) are specialized dockets within the criminal justice system that seek to address underlying mental health or SUD that contribute to the commission of certain criminal offenses in many cases, often providing treatment rather than punishment. The most common types of problem-solving courts are drug treatment, mental health and veterans treatment courts, although there are other specialty court dockets that may vary by state or county. Through these problem-solving courts, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, mental health providers and community partners collaborate to provide treatment in the community as an alternative to being charged and possibly convicted of a criminal offense that could result in incarceration.

As of 2020, there are an estimated  477 adult mental health courts and 56 juvenile mental health courts , along with approximately  3,500  drug treatment courts and  461  veterans treatment courts in the U.S. Most programs are only for those who face misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges, but more recently, jurisdictions have explored courts for additional charges.

Problem-solving courts can be life changing for people with mental illness or SUDs who become involved in the criminal justice system.  Veterans courts  and  drug courts  show similar outcomes for participants. Mental health courts have been associated with  reduced recidivism  and incarceration, and can even  improve  mental health outcomes. There is  some evidence  that including case management and connection to services, such as housing and employment, increase the likelihood of success for participants of specialty courts.

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  • People with mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) deserve help, not handcuffs. Yet, people with mental illness and SUDs are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
  • About 2 in 5 people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness, resulting in jails and prisons becoming unintended mental health facilities where they are often limited access to effective treatment.
  • NAMI is opposed to the continued criminalization of people with mental illness and believes that communities should invest in evidence-based solutions that help people with mental illness get on a path of recovery.
  • Specialty courts, like mental health treatment courts and veterans courts, are an evidence-based tool that can reduce the number of people with mental illness in our nation’s jails and prisons and focus on treatment instead of punishment.
  • As with all mental health treatment, specialty courts should work to engage the individual in their treatment so that it leads to long-term recovery beyond the period that the court is involved.
  • Funding and other resources should be available to support the operations of specialty court programs, especially services and supports like housing and employment programs, that are central to these courts successfully helping individuals.
  • NAMI believes that public policies should focus on investments in early intervention, comprehensive community mental health services, robust crisis response systems and justice diversion strategies to decriminalize people with mental illness and connect people to care.
  • Specialty courts are an important tool in helping people with mental illness while focusing on their health and preserving their dignity. Communities should invest in these courts to better meet the needs of people with mental illness.

What We’ve Done:

  • NAMI supports the  Stepping Up Initiative  which works with counties and other stakeholders to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.
  • NAMI letter to House and Senate leadership advocating for the reauthorization of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), which funds mental health courts.
  • NAMI letter to the House and Senate Appropriations leadership advocating for increased funding for MIOTCRA.

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Problem-Solving Courts

A number of problem-solving courts have gone into operation in Pennsylvania in recent years — and more are on the way.

The first problem-solving court in Pennsylvania opened in Philadelphia in 1997 as an adult drug court program. Since then, the problem-solving court movement in the Commonwealth has expanded to include driving under the influence (DUI) courts, mental health courts, juvenile drug courts and veterans courts.

These innovative courts — sometimes referred to as treatment courts — focus on specific types of behaviors or conditions, often linked to crime and social problems. These behavioral problems, particularly drug addiction and untreated severe mental illness, have a major impact on the courts, jails and prisons.

The goal of problem-solving courts is to supervise the treatment and rehabilitation of carefully screened and selected defendants to try to change their behavior. Instead of a jail sentence, defendants are given counseling, treatment for their addictions or illnesses, educational assistance and healthcare support.

The progress of each defendant is strictly monitored by the court.  Success depends on a partnership between the criminal justice system and the participant.

Defendants who complete their court-supervised programs and graduate may have the charges that brought them to court dismissed and/or their term of supervision reduced. Their criminal records may be expunged.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania officially recognized problem-solving courts in 2006, appointing a statewide coordinator and establishing an advisory committee to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to support these programs.

As problem-solving courts have expanded in Pennsylvania, so too have coordination efforts with executive and legislative offices at the county, state and federal levels.

Diverting certain nonviolent defendants into a problem solving court rather than jail has been shown to stem the number of repeat offenders, trim costly jail expenses, improve lives and strengthen families.

Problem-solving courts in Pennsylvania include:

Veterans courts.

Veterans Courts assist veterans charged with crimes through volunteer mentor training and specialized probation officers.  Learn more .

Drug Courts

Working with criminal justice partners, drug courts combine judicial supervision, treatment, sanctions and incentives to help break the cycle of drug addiction and crime.  Learn more .

DUI courts are dedicated to changing the behavior of DUI offenders.  Learn more .

Juvenile Drug Courts

Juvenile drug courts incorporate specialized services for youth and their families.  Learn more .

Mental Health Courts

Mental health courts partner with policymakers to divert defendants with mental illness into judicially supervised programs.  Learn more .

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Chief Justice Declares May as Problem-Solving Court Month in Nebraska

Problem-Solving Courts Director Adam Jorgensen, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, Judge Shelly Stratman

Nebraska, known for its innovative and effective problem-solving courts, highlighted the work of the courts on April 30, 2024, when the state's Judicial Branch officially declared the month of May as Nebraska Problem-Solving Court Month. This celebration of the state's diverse programming was marked by a proclamation signing ceremony hosted by Nebraska Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican and Justice Jeffrey Funke, broadcast live from the Nebraska Supreme Court Courtroom.

The event spotlighted the accomplishments of Omaha’s Young Adult Court, featuring guest speakers Judge Shelly Stratman and court graduate Marisela Morales-Padilla. Morales-Padilla, a testament to the program's success, shared her inspiring journey as a Young Adult Court graduate. Her introduction was given by Judge Stratman, who presided over Morales-Padilla's graduation ceremony in March 2023.

The Young Adult Court program, under judicial supervision, provides an alternative sentencing avenue for youthful offenders up to age 25 facing felony charges. Participants engage in a comprehensive program of assessment and rehabilitative services offered by multidisciplinary agencies. The program emphasizes community supervision, substance use treatment, mental health support, education, employment, and regular drug testing. Its overarching goal, spanning 18 to 24 months, is to equip participants with the tools necessary for stability and success.

Morales-Padilla participated in a recent “Two Steps Ahead” podcast hosted by educator Sonn Eidem. During her interview, she told viewers that she was in jail for approximately four months when “I got blessed with this program called Young Adult Court.”  She continued, “And it is a weird thing to say that you're blessed.  But being in jail, the Young Adult Court contacted me saying, “Hey, you would fit our program, you're between our age limits and we would like to help you. But the catch was that you would have to plead guilty to all your felonies, but in the end, your felony would get expunged [removed].”

Before concluding the podcast, Morales-Padilla emphasized the significance of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Crystal Meth Anonymous. She stated, “Those help big time -- some people don't like it, for some people, it's perfect for them.  Some people enjoy it; some people don't. But those are one of those places where you can go in and everybody had been through the same thing, and you can either listen or not listen; or you can say something or you don't have to; but I think that's a really good place.”

Chief Justice Heavican's proclamation for the month of May urges individuals, particularly within the legal community, to acknowledge Problem-Solving Court Month and honor the exceptional efforts of Nebraska's problem-solving courts.

Nebraska Public Media streamed the event live as part of its regular Appellate Court coverage, providing viewers with an opportunity to witness the celebration of the state's remarkable problem-solving courts.

Watch: Proclamation signing ceremony

Top Photo: Problem-Solving Courts Director Adam Jorgensen, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, and Judge Shelly Stratman

Photo: Court Administrator Corey Steel, Justice Jeffrey Funke, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, Court graduate Marisela Morales-Padilla, and Judge Shelly Stratman

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A national survey of problem-solving court staff perceptions of in-person versus virtual hearings

Andraka-Christou, B., Atkins, DD., Clark, MH., del Pozo, B. , & Ray, B. (2024). A national survey of problem-solving court staff perceptions of in-person versus virtual hearings . Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law , 52 (1), 15-22. https://doi.org/10.29158/JAAPL.230075-23


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Foley favors problem-solving court for evictions


  • Author email
  • Apr 30, 2024

1. Why do you believe you are the most qualified individual seeking this office?

I have 32 years of experience as a deputy prosecuting attorney, a trial attorney and as a judicial officer. I am extremely well-versed in the law and in Indiana’s Rules of Evidence and Rules of Trial Procedure, in addition to our ethics rules, the Judicial Canons. Beyond handling literally thousands of hearings and trials as an appointed judicial officer, I have received training and certifications from the Indiana Judicial College and Indiana’s Graduate Judges Program. Essentially, I have been doing this job for nearly 20 years now, so I can get to work on Day 1.

2. If you are elected, what are some goals you wish to accomplish for the good of all of DeKalb County?

My first goal is to do the best I can to fill the large shoes of the Honorable Monte Brown with a seamless transition, and to ensure the continued smooth and efficient functioning of the Court. While it sounds a bit trite, the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” is true in many cases, so a smooth transition with no learning curve is extremely important to litigants with pending cases. Regarding a second goal, I have been asked by members of our community to consider initiating a problem-solving court for evictions, as well as to create opportunities for judicial outreach and education within our community. While other problem-solving court programs have been proposed, it is imperative to determine the capacity of necessary partners, such as the probation department, before making any type of declaration. Problem-solving court programs are amazing, but they are labor-intensive and therefore their cost to the taxpayers should be considered when weighing the benefits of any program.

3. How would you work to accomplish those goals?

While it will not be easy to succeed Judge Brown, who is a respected trial judge not just in DeKalb County but across the State of Indiana, the first step is to actually plan the transition. To that end, I have already had some discussion with Judge Brown on how this may be accomplished with minimal disruption to the function of the Court. As to the second goal, whenever a new program is being considered, getting consensus and input from the necessary stakeholders is mandatory. Again, I have already had some contact with landlords and a not-for-profit agency that works with tenants to begin to identify who needs to be at the table to discuss this option.

4. Feel free to include some background information.

I have been a lifelong resident of DeKalb County and a community volunteer for several different DeKalb County organizations for over 40 years, including Dayspring Community Church, the DeKalb Free Fall Fair, the Eckhart Library Foundation and the Eckhart Public Library. My husband of nearly 30 years, Rick Dye, and I chose to raise our 3 amazing children here because we both love living here and wanted our kids to be educated here. My commitment to public service is of long-standing duration and is part of what I do professionally and personally. In addition to my volunteer work, I also participate in several professional committees and boards, such as the Indiana Judges Association Board of Managers, the Indiana Judicial Conference Probation Committee and the Youth Justice Oversight Committee.

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  6. The Justice of the Peace Blog: PROBLEM SOLVING COURTS WILL BE A PROBLEM

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  1. Problem-Solving Courts

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  14. Problem-Solving Courts/Specialty Courts

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  16. Office of Problem-Solving Courts

    Problem-solving courts offer a specialized court docket and include, but are not limited to, the following elements: Problem-solving team. A broad-based team of justice system stakeholders including judges, case managers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment professionals, law enforcement officers, corrections personnel, and guardians ad ...

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    This video introduces problem-solving court approaches, which promise a more effective and humane way to address some of the issues the justice system faces.

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    the national drug court standards, the state problem-solving court standards, mental illness, substance use disorders, alcoholism and pharmacology applied in a therapeutically appropriate manner, medication-assisted treatment, trauma, Veterans issues, and issues of gender, age, and culture that impact a

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    The Problem-Solving Court Certification Program was adopted by the Florida Supreme Court by administrative order. "The Certification Program is a significant step for the courts in emphasizing evidence-based best practices and further advancing positive outcomes for participants," notes Jennifer Grandal, Chief of the Office of Problem ...

  20. PDF Judges and Problem-Solving Courts

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