what are the problem solving courts

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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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Problem-Solving Courts by Eric J. Miller LAST REVIEWED: 06 November 2017 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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Problem-Solving Courts/Specialty Courts

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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.

How We Talk About It:

  • 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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The Problem of Problem-Solving Courts

Erin r. collins.

February 2021

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The creation of a specialized, “problem-solving” court is a ubiquitous response to the issues that plague our criminal legal system. The courts promise to address the factors believed to lead to repeated interactions with the system, such as addiction or mental illness, thereby reducing recidivism and saving money. And they do so effectively — at least according to their many proponents, who celebrate them as an example of a successful “evidence-based,” data-driven reform. But the actual data on their efficacy is underwhelming, inconclusive, or altogether lacking. So why do they persist?

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Most popular pages, what are the problem solving courts, drug court model.

A   Drug Court   is a specially designed court calendar or docket, the purpose of which is to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse and to increase the participants’ likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicial oversight, treatment, mandatory periodic drug testing, and use of appropriate sanctions, incentives, and other community-based rehabilitation services. A   Mental Health Court   applies the drug court model to offender populations whose repeat criminal activity is driven by an underlying mental health issue rather than substance abuse.

Drug courts focus on those who are at   High Risk   of reoffending and in   High Need   of a significant treatment  intervention for their drug addiction. Their intent is to reduce the likelihood of criminal re-offense by treating the underlying addiction that drives the repeat criminal behavior.

That’s why:

  • Drug court practitioners recognize that addiction is a disease, a chronic condition requiring the same kind of long-term care provided to a diabetic or someone with heart disease. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, among other evidence-based treatment modalities, is used over a 9-12 month period to educate the drug court participant about the nature of their disease, while giving them the tools to recognize and manage their “triggers,” just as a diabetic is taught how to manage diet and exercise.
  • 60-80% of offenders who are simply referred to treatment will drop out of treatment prematurely. Science shows that it takes 3-6 months of abstinence from drugs and alcohol for the brain to begin healing from the ravages of addiction, and research indicates that 9-12 months of continuous treatment is necessary for any hope of long-term recovery and rehabilitation.
  • Accordingly, participants must completely change their drug-dependent behavior, and follow all treatment and program dictates, which requires significant behavior change on their part. They are subject to frequent and random drug testing to ensure abstinence, and monitored closely to ensure attendance at all treatment sessions, court hearings, community service assignments, and any other program assigned activities. They are provided clear rules and expectations, and held accountable for their actions, with positive reinforcement for compliant behavior and immediate and appropriate response for non-compliance.
  • As the participant is only in the program due to criminal activity, the rule of law must be satisfied no matter what else happens with the participant in the program. Statutory minimums must be adhered to and all statutorily-mandated fines and fees must be paid. The judge is advised by the drug court team in determination of appropriate responses to participant behavior, but the judge is ultimately responsible for any court-stipulated action, be that an incentive or reward for the participant’s progress through the program, a change in treatment due to relapse, or a sanction such as curfew or incarceration for non-compliant behavior.​​

The figure below provides a visual image of how a drug court is a   treatment program , within a   behavior modification system , administered by a   court of law . As such, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the different entities that make up a drug court program normally operate quite independently of each other, but through the collaborative and closely knit team-structure of a drug court program they prove far more effective at reducing recidivism of offenders whose repeat criminal activity is driven by addiction and/or mental health issues.

what are the problem solving courts

The key people involved in these three basic drug court components are identified below. Licensed counselors provide treatment. Multiple and varied people can be involved in the two arms of the behavior modification system, drug testing and sanctions and incentives: drug testing can be performed by probation/surveillance officers, treatment and even court staff; while sanctions and incentives are discussed and determined by the entire drug court team. Clearly the right-hand needs to know what the left-hand is doing for those two arms to work together in support of effective behavior modification. The Judge presides over all but administers the legal aspect of the drug court program in collaboration with prosecution and defense counsel.

what are the problem solving courts

These slides speak more to how drug court programs actually operate, turning the normally adversarial nature of the court system (slide #1) into a collaborative team-effort.

what are the problem solving courts

Outside of the ongoing treatment sessions and probation/surveillance officer field activities, the major court components of the program are the Staffings and Hearings. In most programs, these are held every two weeks, with the Staffing immediately preceding and informing the Drug Court Hearing. The Hearing is the culmination of all other activities, as it is where the judge engages in a conversation with each participant about their compliance with the program.

what are the problem solving courts

Programs are organized into phases, giving the participant clear milestones for progress through the program. If the participant successfully completes all phases of the program, the judge will preside over their program “graduation,” which is a celebration with the entire team, family, and friends, to mark this major milestone in their recovery from substance abuse. Successful completion can lead to a reduction in charge or sentence for the original crime, whereas unsuccessful termination leads to sentencing on the criminal activity that led to the referral to the drug court program. 

NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

America's problem-solving courts: the criminal costs of treatment and the case for reform.

In 2007, NACDL established a Problem-Solving Courts Task Force to examine the operations of courts such as drug and mental health courts. The Task Force was charged with conducting a thorough analysis of these courts, specifically focusing upon the ethical implications for the defense bar and the constitutional implications for society at large. The culmination of this project is a comprehensive report and recommendations that for the first time provide the perspective of the nation’s criminal defense bar. [Released September 2009]

  • Download the Report (pdf)
  • Executive Summary.pdf
  • Task Force Hearing Witness List (Appendix A)

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Treatment courts

State standards for treatment courts interactive map.

what are the problem solving courts

If you have information that can be added or updated, please contact Nicole Waters .


The NCSC treatment court experts include practitioners and researchers with experience in all treatment court models.

Services we provide

Performance measurement for treatment courts

Q&A: What type of evaluation is right for your court?

Statewide efforts for treatment courts

States across the country are undertaking the challenge of developing governing documents to provide oversight and accountability for operating treatment courts, including best practices, guidelines, recommendations, standards, certification checklists or rules. Read more

Completed community court projects

Red Hook Community Justice Center.  The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) released a major research report evaluating the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which concluded that the community court model can reduce crime and strengthen neighborhoods in a cost-efficient way. The report, A Community Court Grows in Brooklyn: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center , marks the third community court evaluation by NCSC researchers. Funding for the Red Hook evaluation was provided by a grant from the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

  • Read the Executive Summary
  • Read the Full Report
  • Read the Press Release

Process Evaluation of the Philadelphia Community Court

Dispensing Justice Locally: The Implementation and Effects of the Midtown Community Court

Dispensing Justice Locally: The Impacts, Cost and Benefits of the Midtown Community Court

Census of Problem-Solving Courts

In this project, the NCSC compiled programmatic data on all problem-solving courts nationwide. The census was the first to capture such data in order to better understand the wide array of problem-solving courts and their practices. Census questions focused on key components of problem-solving courts including: underlying social problems addressed, community collaboration, and services offered. Funded by Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Mental health courts

  • The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in collaboration with the NCSC, has produced an interdisciplinary curriculum, Developing a Mental Health Court, which brings together national experience and expertise to introduce key concepts for mental health courts and other collaborations between criminal justice and behavioral health systems. More information and course access.
  • Mental Health Court Performance Measures (MHCPM) is a set of 14 performance measures that offers court managers and administrators a tool to monitor the performance of mental health courts.
  • See below for current mental health court projects.

Current treatment court projects

Adult drug courts.

Illinois: Statewide. Three-year project to assist with the development of problem-solving court curricula and training; assess data and identify needs based on best practices; review PSC self-assessment tool; conduct train-the-trainer sessions; and provide technical assistance.

Iowa: Statewide.  Three-year project to develop statewide problem-solving court standards and coordinate and deliver a statewide training and technical assistance program to support Iowa’s specialty treatment courts (STCs) for the Iowa Judicial Branch (IJB).

Iowa: Statewide. Developing a performance management system for Adult Drug Courts consisting of a manual describing the performance measures, performance targets for the performance measures, and scenario-based performance management training to drug court stakeholders. Staff will also provide technical assistance to programmers designing reports to operationalize the performance management system.

Kentucky: Statewide. Implementing performance management system targets to inform strategic planning decisions and provide scenario-based training to enable the Adult Drug Courts to more effectively manage their local programs.

Maryland: Statewide. Developing a performance management system for adult drug courts consisting of a manual describing the performance measures, performance targets for the performance measures, and scenario-based performance management training to drug court stakeholders. Staff will also provide technical assistance to programmers to design reports to operationalize the performance management system.

Michigan: Ottawa County.  Conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the 20th Circuit Court Adult Drug Treatment Court.

Nebraska: Statewide.  Establishing standardized performance measures for Nebraska's DUI Courts, Family Drug Treatment Courts, Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts, Young Adult Courts, Reentry Courts, Mental Health Courts, and Veterans Treatment Courts; will identify data elements that need be collected to assess against the performance measures, support judicial branch in building performance measures into existing MIS, and train problem-solving court practitioners on new and existing performance measures.

New Mexico: Bernalillo County.  Conducting a five-year project to evaluate grant-funded program enhancements of seven Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court treatment courts including Behavioral Health Court, Behavioral Health DWI Court, Community Veterans Treatment Court, Domestic Violence Treatment Education Program, DWI/Recovery Court, Urban Native American Healing to Wellness Court, and Substance Use and Treatment Options Program.

Virginia: Washington County.  Conducting process and outcome evaluation services, including training and technical assistance for the Washington County Adult Drug Court.

West Virginia: Statewide. Three-year project to develop and deploy a self-assessment tool, review and revise WV ADC's performance measures, and produce a baseline process evaluation in the first year; develop new member training and provide technical assistance in year two; and revisit 12 sites to produce a baseline process and outcome evaluation in year three.

DUI / DWI court

Family drug court.

North Carolina: Lenoir County. Conducting a three-year project to evaluate grant-funded enhancements to Lenior County's Family Drug Courts to include a baseline process evaluation, a performance assessment/implementation report with recommendations for improvement, and a final outcome and impact evaluation report with final recommendations.

Juvenile drug court

Michigan: Statewide. Conducting a six-year project to evaluate and develop an improved program model for Michigan's Juvenile Drug Courts using evidence-based practices. Includes a baseline assessment of program operations, plan for implementation of recommendations with technical assistance, process evaluation and final outcome evaluation findings.

Mental health court

Illinois: Statewide. Assisting Illinois with developing a mental health task force to include the following: complete a statewide assessment of the court and community response to behavioral health and identify gaps and opportunities; identify statewide data sources and determine how data is effectively being shared; create a statewide vision of what a behavioral health continuum of care and diversion should look like in Illinois; and develop a plan to improve court and community responses.

Illinois: McLean County. Conducting a three-year project to assist McLean County Courts with an implementation assessment for the grant-funded program to establish a Comprehensive Assessment Team (CAT). NCSC will conduct an assessment of the methods and processes used to implement the planning and implementation guide and will assist with the development and implementation of performance measures or similar to assess in- and post-program outcomes.

New Mexico: Statewide. Conducting a three-year project to provide Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM), provide technical assistance for the development and implementation of jurisdiction plans, develop selection criteria for pilot sites, develop performance measures, and evaluate pilot sites for a grant-funded program to assist statewide and local teams to identify persons with behavioral health needs and improve behavioral health responses with a focus on female offenders with mental illness and substance use disorders and specific challenges faced by rural and high-poverty communities.

Veterans treatment court

Rhode Island: Statewide. Designing and implementing comprehensive process and outcome evaluations, annual performance assessments, and quarterly performance reports.

Past projects

Projects completed in 2021.

Eugene, Oregon Community Court.  Conducted a process evaluation, impact/outcome evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of the community court program in Eugene, Oregon.

New Mexico: Bernalillo County.  Conducted a three-year project to assist with the development of performance measures and integrating them with data collection into a case management system to support evaluations. Conducting process and outcome evaluations of the DWI/Recovery Drug Court, Urban Native American Healing to Wellness Court, and Community Veterans Treatment Court Program; and providing a tool to allow the specialty courts to document baseline performance and assess their performance trends over time.

Puerto Rico:  Developed and implementid a comprehensive evaluation of Puerto Rico's adult drug court programs.

Projects completed in 2020

Nebraska: Statewide.  Conducted a two-year project to assess the impact and cost-effectiveness of Nebraska Adult Drug and DUI Courts.

New Mexico: Bernalillo County.  Conducted a baseline assessment and process and outcome evaluations of New Mexico's Second Judicial District Court's drug court program and Healing to Wellness track.

Virginia: Chesterfield County.  Conducted baseline program assessment, process evaluation, project implementation assessment and outcome evaluation for the Juvenile Drug Court.

Virginia: Washington County.  Conducted an evaluation of Washington County's drug court program.

Washington: Clark County.  Conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the combined District and Superior Court Mental Health Court.

Projects completed in 2019

Arkansas: Statewide.  Conducted an outcome/impact evaluation of Arkansas' Specialty Drug Courts to include Adult Drug Courts, Juvenile Drug Courts, DWI Courts Mental Health Courts, and Veterans Treatment Courts. The evaluation examined participant and program characteristics associated with the successful completion of program requirements and rates of recidivism as compared to a matched group of standard probationers with similar characteristics.

Delaware: Statewide. Conducted a three-year project to assist with the development and implementation of performance measures and standard policies and procedures for Delaware's Problem-Solving Courts.

Illinois: McLean County. Conducted a three-year process and outcome evaluation of the Adult Drug Court and Recovery Court to broaden evidence-based practice and knowledge and lead to continuous quality improvement.

Virginia: City of Richmond.  Conducted an implementation assessment of the City of Richmond Juvenile Behavioral Health Docket.

Projects completed in 2018

Virginia: City of Bristol. Conducted a four-year evaluation of the impact of grant-funded activities implemented in the Bristol Adult Drug Court.

West Virginia: Statewide. Developed statewide performance measures for West Virginia's Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts and conducted process and outcome evaluations of selected Juvenile Drug Courts.

Projects completed in 2017

Colorado: Jefferson County. Conducted an assessment of the Recovery Court's alignment with best practices and an outcome evaluation.

Michigan: Statewide. Conducted an outcome evaluation of the Adult Drug Courts, DWI and Hybrid Courts for Michigan's State Court Administrative Office.

Minnesota: Statewide. Assisted with the development of statewide Mental Health Court standards and the transition to the new standards.

Nebraska: Statewide. Developed evidence-based standards for Nebraska’s Adult Drug and DUI Courts and facilitated their implementation with fidelity by providing a supporting information infrastructure along with statewide training and/or technical assistance to drug court teams.

New Mexico: Bernalillo County.  Conducted a four-year project to evaluate the impact of grant-funded activities implemented in Bernalillo County's DWI and Mental Health Courts. The performance assessment included long-term outcomes of program participants in comparison to participants enrolled in a DWI Court or Mental Health Court in another jurisdiction with a similar demographic composition.

Utah: Statewide. Developed statewide performance measures for Utah’s Adult Drug Treatment Courts, conducted a process evaluation of selected Drug Courts, and an outcome evaluation of selected courts.

West Virginia: Statewide. Developed statewide performance measures for West Virginia’s Adult Drug Treatment Courts, and conducted process and outcome evaluations of selected drug courts.

Projects completed in 2016

Colorado: Statewide. Developed statewide performance measures for Colorado's Dependency and Neglect System Reform program (DANSR), a new federal initiative.

Florida: Miami-Dade County. Conducted a three-year evaluation of the impact of grant funded activities implemented in the Miami-Dade Adult Drug Court including a randomized trauma treatment experiment and a baseline program assessment, process evaluation, project implementation assessment and outcome evaluation in the Juvenile Drug Court.

Minnesota: Statewide. Conducted an assessment of the current funding and staffing of Minnesota's problem-solving courts and developed recommendations for future funding models.

Virginia: City of Norfolk. Conducted a three-year evaluation of the impact of grant-funded activities implemented in the Norfolk Adult Drug Court, Norfolk Mental Health Court and Norfolk Re-Entry Court.

Projects completed in 2015

Arizona: Statewide. Conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of the Mental Health Courts (also includes specialized probation caseloads) currently operational in Arizona.

Illinois:  McLean County. Conducted a process and outcome evaluation of the McLean County, Ill., Behavioral Health Court Collaborative, encompassing an Adult Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

Illinois: Cook County. Developed an evaluation plan for the Access to Community-Based Treatment (ACT) Court in Cook County.

Indiana: Madison County. Conducted a three-year project evaluating the Madison County Adult Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Re-entry Court.

Oregon: Lane County. Conducted a Mental Health Court evaluation for Lane County, Oregon

Pennsylvania: Statewide. Conducted a statewide Veterans Treatment Court process evaluation and established performance measures for the Veterans Treatment Courts in Pennsylvania.

Texas: Statewide. Conducted a process and outcome evaluation of the West Texas Adult Treatment Court Collaborative, encompassing Re-Entry Court, DUI Court and Adult Drug Court.

Virginia: Chesterfield County. Examined program practices that impact the long-term outcomes of Chesterfield County’s Adult Drug Court. See: Cheesman, F., Graves, S., Holt, K., Kunkel, T,  Lee, C.,White, M. (2016)  Drug court effectiveness and efficiency: Findings for Virginia. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 34 (2). Authors: National Center for State Courts.

Wisconsin: Statewide. Developed a statewide performance management system for Adult/Hybrid Drug Courts consisting of a manual describing the performance measures selected by Wisconsin, performance targets for the performance measures, and scenario-based performance management training to drug/hybrid court stakeholders. Staff also provided technical assistance to programmers to design reports to operationalize the performance management system.

Projects completed in 2014

Kansas: Wyandotte County.  Conducted a process and outcome evaluation of Wyandotte County’s Juvenile Diversion program.

Kansas: Wyandotte County.  Conducted a process and outcome evaluation of Wyandotte County’s Adult Drug Court.

New Jersey: Statewide. Conducted a multi-year process and outcome evaluation of the Morris/Sussex Vicinage family drug courts.

Virginia: Statewide. Conducted a statewide impact and cost-benefit evaluation of Virginia’s DUI Courts.

Washington: Snohomish County. Conducted a three-year process and impact evaluation of Snohomish County. Washington’s Reclaiming Futures initiative.

Projects completed in 2013

Illinois: McLean. Court worker, probation officer, and treatment provider training, and the development and expansion of Behavioral Health Treatment Court Collaboratives for McLean County Court Services.

National: Research to Practice Project

Arkansas: SWIFT Court Implementation Assessment

New York: Red Hook Community Justice Center Evaluation

Projects completed in 2012

National: MHC Curriculum Development. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center has produced an interdisciplinary curriculum, Developing a Mental Health Court , which brings together national experience and expertise to introduce key concepts for mental health courts and other collaborations between criminal justice and behavioral health systems.

District of Columbia: Superior Court DUI and Prostitution Court.

Virginia: Chesterfield County. Adult and Juvenile Drug Court Video Project

Virginia: Statewide. Adult Drug Court Impact and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Projects completed in 2011

Puerto Rico: Evaluation of the Drug Court Management Information System for the Office of Courts Administration.

Projects completed in 2010

National: Mental Health Court Performance Measures (MHCPM) is a set of 14 performance measures that offers court managers and administrators a tool to monitor the performance of mental health courts.

Kansas: Adult Drug Court Feasibility Study

Minnesota: District Court’s New Beginnings Program at Elk River, Sherburne County

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Community Court Evaluation (Draft report)

Projects completed in 2009

National: Based on a review of seven mental health courts across the nation, the NCSC developed a communication model that effectively integrates the concerns of all members of the MHC team, both internal and external to the court. The project resulted in a set of best practices that foster better managed MHCs, generates cultural changes suitable for MHCs within the criminal justice system, and encourages multi-disciplinary trust and cooperation among the MHC team. Mental Health Court Culture: Leaving Your Hat at the Door. Executive Summary | Full report

District of Columbia: Process Evaluation of the Fathering Reentry Court

Nebraska: Develop Statewide Performance Measures for Drug Courts

Pennsylvania: Develop Statewide Drug & DUI Court Performance Measures

Projects completed in 2008

National: Performance Measurement of Drug Courts: The State of the Art (2008). This Statewide Technical Assistance (TA) Bulletin updates the volume published in 2004 that described the methodology used by the National Center for State Courts to develop Statewide Performance Measurement Systems for the drug courts of several states.

Colorado: Performance Measures for Teen Court

Delaware: Strategies to Strengthen Juvenile Drug Courts

Florida: Plan for the Statewide Evaluation of Florida’s Drug Courts

Kentucky: Statewide Adult Drug Court Performance Measures

Michigan: Statewide Standards for Drug Courts

North Dakota: Statewide Treatment Standards for Juvenile Drug Courts

Oregon: Long-term Administration and Evaluation Plan for Drug Courts

Projects completed in 2007

Hawai’i: Statewide Drug Courts Evaluation, Phase 2

North Carolina: Outcome Evaluation of Cumberland County Safe-Link Integrated Domestic Violence Court for the Administrative Office of the Courts

Wyoming: Drug Court Evaluation Plan for the Department of Health Substance Abuse Division

Projects completed in 2006

Hawai’i: Statewide Drug Court Process Evaluation, Phase 1

Missouri: Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Drug Court Evaluation

Projects completed in 2004

National: Drug Court Program Office, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Development of Training Programs on Drug Court Evaluation Concepts and Strategies

Colorado: Evaluation of the DUI/DWAI System

Georgia: Evaluation of the Carroll County Drug Court

Michigan: Establishment of Evaluation Criteria and development of an RFP for the Adult Drug Treatment Court in the 6 th Judicial Circuit of Oakland County

Michigan: Drug Court Case Management System RFP for the Administrative Office of the Courts

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Problem-solving courts, also known as specialty or therapeutic courts, seek to help low-level criminal defendants suffering from an underlying mental health, social or substance abuse problem from becoming repeat offenders.  Problem-solving courts achieve this goal by providing treatment and intensive supervision.     

The Cook County Circuit Court has a countywide network of problem-solving courts that includes Drug Treatment Courts, Mental Health Treatment Courts, and Veterans’ Treatment Courts.

With varying target populations, all problem-solving courts seek to address the primary issues that contributed to the participant’s involvement in the judicial system. These issues are addressed with public safety in mind. 

In order for candidates to be eligible for the problem-solving court program, they must first meet certain legal and clinical criteria. Cook County problem-solving courts are designed primarily to assist people who have committed non-violent felony crimes. However, some problem-solving courts in the suburbs of Cook County accept misdemeanor cases. Problem-solving courts coordinate efforts between members of the court system and organizations outside of the court system in order to guarantee that participants receive sufficient counseling. Team members from the court system are: prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers, clinical case managers, and other justice system affiliates.  Team members from organizations outside of the court system include: substance abuse and mental health treatment providers, community partners, and VA representatives. A judge assigned to each specific problem-solving court leads these teams.

The teams design and implement individualized treatment plans for participants, which include linkage to community-based services that offer intensive treatment, interventions, and supervision. Problem-solving court judges are personally involved in many aspects of this process including: team building, staff meetings and status hearings. Specific roles and responsibilities are explicitly assigned, but through a coordinated effort, a participant’s case and compliance with program rules are monitored.  All problem-solving courts create specific goals for participants in favor of their advancement toward program completion. Participants appear in court regularly for status hearings in order for the judges to ensure ongoing interaction between participants and court team members. Problem-solving courts have positively affected the lives of participants and people directly and indirectly connected to them. Among these positive affects is the significant reduction of incarceration costs and recidivism rates of problem-solving court participants.

For additional information, please contact:

Kelly Gallivan-Ilarraza Director of Problem-Solving Courts

Email:  [email protected] 

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Book cover

Australian Courts pp 197–220 Cite as

Problem-Solving Courts

  • Lacey Schaefer   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2981-2542 3 &
  • Caitlyn Egan 4  
  • First Online: 11 January 2023

974 Accesses

This chapter considers the catalyst for developing specialist problem-solving courts across Australia. It charts their emergence and assesses their evolution from tentative beginnings to the critically important role they play within the contemporary criminal justice system. Use of the term ‘problem-solving’ is, in itself, somewhat controversial, as these courts might be better considered as ‘problem-oriented’ to reflect that they cannot solve the causes of criminal behaviour. Australia has observed an ‘Americanisation’ of these specialty courts: this somewhat confused identity creates challenges and warrants change. It describes the potentially coercive nature of participation in problem-solving courts and the contentious sentencing practices that undergird them. There are multiple complexities and therefore challenges inherent in the contemporary operationalisation of problem-solving courts, including equity of access; resourcing issues; and case co-ordination hurdles. In order to ‘solve problems’ related to offending, problems must be better defined, access increased and solutions better resourced.

  • Problem-solving courts
  • Specialty courts
  • Therapeutic jurisprudence
  • Justice innovation
  • Access to justice
  • Sentencing reform

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Duffy, J. (2011). Problem-solving courts, therapeutic jurisprudence and the constitution: If two is company, is three a crowd? Melbourne University Law Review, 35 (2), 394–425.

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Freeman, K. (2002). New South Wales drug court evaluation: Health, well-being and participant satisfaction . NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Freiberg, A. (2001). Problem-oriented courts: Innovative solutions to intractable problems? Journal of Judicial Administration, 11 (8), 8–27.

Hall, W., & Lucke, J. (2010). Legally coerced treatment for drug using offenders: Ethical and policy issues . NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Haskins, P. A. (2019). Problem-solving courts: Fighting crime by treating the offender. National Institute of Justice Journal, 281 , 70–79.

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Kornhauser, R. (2018). The effectiveness of Australia’s drug courts. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 51 (1), 76–98.

Lim, L., & Day, A. (2013). Mental health diversion courts: Some directions for further development. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 20 (1), 36–45.

Lim, L., & Day, A. (2016). Mental health diversion courts: A prospective study of reoffending and clinical outcomes of an Australian mental health court program. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 55 (4), 254–270.

Magistrates Court of Western Australia. (2021a). Start Court . https://www.magistratescourt.wa.gov.au/S/start_court.aspx

Magistrates Court of Western Australia. (2021b). Intellectual Disability Diversion Program Court . https://www.magistratescourt.wa.gov.au/I/intellectual_disability_diversion_program_court.aspx

McCoy, C., Heydebrand, W., & Mirchandani, R. (2015). The problem with problem-solving justice: Coercion vs. democratic deliberation. Restorative Justice , 3 (2), 159–187.

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Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW) No 150.

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Lacey Schaefer

Caitlyn Egan

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Practitioner Perspective: A Reflection on Problem-Solving Courts in Australia

  • Elizabeth Daniels 

Queensland Magistrates Court, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Elizabeth Daniels

I started my legal career in 2011 as a young general practice lawyer in rural Queensland, spending much of my time representing clients in Magistrates Courts for a variety of criminal proceedings. During that period, I did not devote much thought to the purpose of the justice system, nor did I readily recognise the system’s shortcomings when it came to interacting with those experiencing or exposed to domestic and family violence (DFV).

To me, courts were a place for justice, punishment and accountability for someone’s actions according to the law. Even with my narrow view of the function of the justice system, I still recall questionable practices, particularly in the domestic and family violence (DFV) jurisdiction, which did not serve the needs of those seeking protection. I regularly observed lawyers representing perpetrators enter courthouse saferooms and demand victims withdraw applications for protection orders or make submissions to the court that a domestic violence offence was ‘not overly serious’ and punishment ‘should be at the lower end of the sentencing regime’.

Throughout the second decade of the twenty-first century, we have seen significant government reform and a spotlight on solving the ‘problem’ of DFV, including the delivery of the ground-breaking report of the Queensland Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence (2015) Not now, not ever: Putting an end to domestic and family violence in Queensland (NNNE Report) in February 2015. I am fortunate to say, through the introduction of specialist DFV courts, I have played an active role in one of the more significant justice system reforms in Queensland’s history.

Background and Challenges

In response to the recommendations from the NNNE Report, a trial of the Southport Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court (SDFVC) commenced in September 2015 and a report evaluating this court was released in 2022 (ARTD, 2022). The NNNE Report implored the Queensland Government to reform the justice system to ensure it better protected victims/survivors (and their children), achieved fair and protective outcomes and made perpetrators of violence accountable for their behaviour. Many reported to the Taskforce that the justice system (courts and police) only further victimised or marginalised victims. From inception, the implementation of a specialist court and the key outcomes it was to achieve had overarching support from government and non-government agencies alike; however, factors such as day-to-day operations, how we would achieve reform, and what would be the ‘measures of success’ remained key challenges.

From the outset, the SDFVC had a clear mandate: to create a justice system response where the safety of victims/survivors was paramount and perpetrator accountability was a key objective. The specialist court model differed from traditional courts as it became a place of engagement for people attending court and provided not only a legal response but encouraged ‘wrap-around’ DFV support for those who attended. The model required all stakeholders (government and non-government/legal and social work) to work together in a way and to a magnitude which was unprecedented. The concepts of integration, collaboration and co-ordination would become the cornerstones of the court’s operation.

A major challenge was ensuring that the model maintained the separation of powers of the court, preserved the functions of individual stakeholder roles (prosecutors, lawyers, DFV support services) and pursued reform. Despite the collaborative spirit being evidenced from the outset, it did not prevent issues arising which placed significant pressures on all to reflect and understand how their organisations internal operations, purpose and traditional functions may be contributing to the ongoing generation of barriers and marginalising or re-victimising those seeking protection/safety. This reflective practice was particularly challenging for government departments with deeply entrenched organisational cultures, which at the time were reported as not consistent with a ‘best practice’ response to DFV or the specialist court approach.

Some of the more significant challenges for practitioners involved in the implementation of SDFVCs have included:

an ‘open door policy’ and broad eligibility criteria for accessing the specialist court, leading to substantial increases in case numbers, workloads and file complexity (which contributed to staff burnout, placed pressure on resources, and impacted the ongoing sustainability of the model);

integrated methods of working for government and non-government agencies, including the need to proactively share information about parties attending the court to ensure the most appropriate orders were made (including the granting of protection orders) 1 ;

a lack of a common risk screening and assessment tool or any uniform terminology 2 ;

complexity and confusion, particularly for victims, in navigating the legal processes (combination/intersection of both civil and criminal proceedings in Queensland) and limited support available to assist; and

limited availability of specialist DFV support services to assist persons attending court (and for legal practitioners to refer clients to). The services available would eventually increase in functionality/scope and assist victims in drafting and filing protection order applications, conduct risk assessments and generate safety plans (including securing emergency accommodation), receive referrals to men’s support services and assist entry into behaviour change programmes. These support activities were identified by stakeholders as key engagement opportunities which if conducted at court and in a timely fashion, could assist in promoting the protection and safety of victims, increase engagement and potentially achieve perpetrator accountability.

Reforms and Solutions

In February 2017, Griffith University released its Evaluation of the Specialist DFV Court Trial in Southport , making several interim findings and key recommendations (Bond et al., 2017). The evaluation found the Southport SDFVC had made significant inroads toward achieving its desired objectives. Fundamentally the court had taken steps to increase engagement with parties and to create a safe place for victims to attend and seek protection, all the while providing ‘wrap-around’ support for both victims and perpetrators. Recommendations were made highlighting some of the areas for continued improvement, perhaps most significantly the need for increased perpetrator accountability and access to men’s behaviour change programmes, as well as consideration as to how the model might work in other locations in Queensland.

As a practitioner working across the model, I attribute the positive outcomes and the ‘specialist’ nature of the court to two key initiatives adopted by Southport (and replicated at subsequent specialist court locations). First, the implementation of the Operational Working Group (OWG)—a weekly stakeholder meeting with representatives from each agency and the dedicated DFV magistrates to openly discuss issues, challenges, failures or successes of how the model was operating and developing. 3 This was one of the key ‘problem-solving’ elements of the model. Second, the commitment to ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘innovation’—this was despite differences in opinion, ever changing court operations and ongoing pressures on stakeholders’ resources including funding, staffing, workloads and fluctuations in government agenda/reform momentum. The commitment and collaborative spirit displayed by those involved in the implementation, development and ongoing sustainability of SDFVCs is what has made it a true privilege to be a practitioner involved.

Sustainability of Problem-Solving Courts

Without the delivery of the second evaluation of the Southport SDFVC at the time of writing this reflection, it is difficult to comment on the sustainability of the model from an evidence-based perspective. As a practitioner involved in inception and ongoing implementation, some of the challenges for sustainability include:

ensuring models are properly resourced and are not ‘person-based’ or rely upon goodwill to function;

the ongoing need for clarity about the model and its core elements—as the SDFVC developed at a rapid pace and in an organic fashion, the model continued to evolve making it challenging to define and sustain over a longer period and across multiple locations;

the need for the model to reflect diversity, be accessible to people from all cultural backgrounds and diverse groups, and to be able to translate notions of ‘best practice DFV’ to courts across the state of Queensland (including regional areas/First Nations communities); and

clarity around the concept of ‘success’, particularly in relation to the goal of perpetrator accountability.

Upon reflection of my involvement in the implementation of specialist DFV courts in Queensland, it has been encouraging to see the justice system proactively and creatively adapt in its response to NNNE. From my perspective, it is important to continue reflecting on the model, both internally and externally through independent evaluations and reviews to improve. Building the OWG as a key function/component of the SDFVC was integral to the success of the model and in my view could be adapted to other problem-solving courts.

In my experience, the questionable practices observed during the start of my career are far less likely to be observed in the SDFVC—if they were, the OWG would certainly have something to say. Despite the significant reform to date, it remains imperative the justice system continues its journey to ensure courts are a place of safety for victims seeking protection and perpetrator accountability remains at the forefront of the response. It is these key objectives which must be achieved before the long-term objective of eliminating domestic and family violence can be realised.

This was in comparison with the traditional ‘siloed’ approach by agencies only submitting to the court ‘what they knew’. At the time of commencement of the SDFVCs, there were no uniform processes or platforms for sharing of information between agencies. The amendments to the Domestic & Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) introducing Part 5A regarding increased information sharing did not come into effect until 30 May 2017.

In 2017, the Queensland Government introduced the Common Risk and Safety Framework (CRASF). The framework was developed for use by government and non-government community service agencies. It articulates a shared understanding, language and common approach to recognising, assessing and responding to DFV risk and safety action planning, including common minimum standards and approaches for in an attempt to adopt a more uniformed approach.

Note that the OWG continues to date, albeit with less frequent meetings, but still as a key part of the model.

ARTD. (2022). The Southport Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court: Process Evaluation 2017–2020 . Department of Justice and Attorney-General. https://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/722674/southport-specialist-dfv-process-evaluation-2017-2020.pdf

Queensland Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence. (2015). Not now, not ever: Putting an end to domestic and family violence in Queensland . Report provided to the Premier.

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Schaefer, L., Egan, C. (2022). Problem-Solving Courts. In: Camilleri, M., Harkness, A. (eds) Australian Courts. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-19063-6_9

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Community Corner

25 graduate from will county problem solving courts: glasgow, "for too long, society treated substance use disorders as a moral failing," will county state's attorney jim glasgow declared..

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John Ferak , Patch Staff

State’s Attorney Glasgow showing attendees at graduation ceremony newspaper article from 1998 announcing drug court grant.

(The following edited press release is from the Will County State's Attorney's Office.)

JOLIET – On Friday, State’s Attorney James Glasgow announced that 25 people graduated from the Will County Problem Solving Courts in a September 7 ceremony at the Jacob Henry Mansion in Joliet.

The event celebrated the Drug Court’s 25th anniversary, which was marked with a proclamation by the Will County Executive and County Board. Glasgow wrote the grants in 1998 that led to the establishment of the Will County Drug Court which convened for the first time in 2000.

Find out what's happening in Joliet with free, real-time updates from Patch.

“Twenty-five years ago, when I wrote that grants that established the Will County Drug Court, I recognized there was a dire need to provide assistance to individuals who wanted to turn their lives around and needed the ongoing support and safety net to do so,” Glasgow said. “For too long, society treated substance use disorders as a moral failing. That is not the case. People turn to substance use to address physical and emotional pain. By addressing the underlying issues through counseling and our supportive programming, we are helping individuals turn their lives around which benefits all of Will County.”

At its August 17 meeting, the Will County Executive and County Board unanimously approved a proclamation recognizing the Drug Court’s 25th anniversary, commending its growth “from the original 12 participants to more than 100 participants at any given time,” and proclaiming that the County Executive and Board “extend their appreciation for its ongoing commitment to the citizens of Will County.”

Thursday’s program honored fifteen Drug Court graduates, from Joliet, Lockport, Wilmington, Manhattan, New Lenox, and Gardner; one Veterans Court graduate, from Joliet; and nine Mental Health Court graduates, who hail from Joliet, Naperville, and Crete. To date, 834 people have turned their lives around through the Will County diversionary court program.

In addition to remarks by Glasgow, program alumna Anthony Thompson, Problem Solving Court Coordinator Dr. Scott DuBois, and Associate Judge Frederick Harvey addressed the graduates.

In addition to his leadership in initiating the Will County Drug Court, Glasgow established the Mental Health Court in 2010 along with Will County Chief Judge Gerald Kinney, filed the petition requesting the formation of the Will County Veterans Court in 2012, and wrote and obtained the grant for the Redeploy Illinois Court to steer qualifying repeat offenders away from prison and into gainful employment. Although Redeploy Illinois no longer is a separate program, it continues to provide funding for individuals to participate in the three other diversionary court programs.

Glasgow also established three transitional residence facilities to further help Problem Solving Court participants on the path to reentry into the workforce. The Miller Taylor House and Julie Ann House provide temporary housing, and the Connor Kelly Residence opened its doors in 2019 to provide longer-term transitional housing.

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