What Are Problem-Solving Courts?
Problem-solving courts began in the 1990s to accommodate offenders with specific needs and problems that were not or could not be adequately addressed in traditional courts. Problem-solving courts seek to promote outcomes that will benefit not only the offender, but the victim and society as well. Thus problem-solving courts were developed as an innovative response to deal with offenders' problems, including drug abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence. Although most problem solving court models are relatively new, early results from studies show that these types of courts are having a positive impact on the lives of offenders and victims and in some instances are saving jail and prison costs.
In general, problem-solving courts share some common elements:
- Focus on Outcomes. Problem-solving courts are designed to provide positive case outcomes for victims, society and the offender (e.g., reducing recidivism or creating safer communities).
- System Change. Problem-solving courts promote reform in how the government responds to problems such as drug addiction and mental illness.
- Judicial Involvement. Judges take a more hands-on approach to addressing problems and changing behaviors of defendants.
- Collaboration. Problem-solving courts work with external parties to achieve certain goals (e.g., developing partnerships with mental health providers).
- Non-traditional Roles. These courts and their personnel take on roles or processes not common in traditional courts. For example, some problem-solving courts are less adversarial than traditional criminal justice processing.
- Screening and Assessment. Use of screening and assessment tools to identify appropriate individuals for the court is common.
- Early identification of potential candidates. Use of screening and assessment tools to determine a defendant's eligibility for the problem-solving court usually occurs early in a defendant's involvement with criminal justice processing.