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What Are Problem-Solving Courts?

Problem-solving courts began in the 1990s to accommodate justice involved individuals 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 justice involved individual, but the victim and society as well. Thus problem-solving courts were developed as an innovative response to deal with individuals' needs, including drug abuse and mental illness. Results from studies show that these types of courts are having a positive impact on the lives of justice involved individuals and victims and in some instances provide cost-savings for jails and prisons.

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 justice involved individuals  (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 individuals in these courts.
  • 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 practice.
  • 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 the process.

Problem-Solving Courts Committee

Additional information about problem solving courts

National Drug Court Institute

NADCP Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards Volume I

NADCP Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards Volume II

Summary of Evaluation Findings in Five Adult Programs (2007)

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