A New Way of Delivering Justice

Article excerpt

A new way of delivering justice Good Courts: The Case for Problem-Solving Justice, by Creg Berman and John Feinblatt. The New Press. 2005. 240 pages. $24.95.

In the early nineties a state court judge in Florida got more and more discouraged when he kept seeing the same defendants in his courtroom time after time for new drug-related offenses. It was his practice to order the sanctions available to him in these cases in higher and higher increments in order to encourage defendants to change their behavior. It wasn't working. He began to talk with others about what could be done to achieve more positive results. He involved the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and treatment providers working in his court in these discussions.

They decided that they needed to know more. They learned about drug use and its impacts on defendants they were seeing. They developed new processes with new sanctions and incentives based on what they learned. The judge began to see improvement. This success got press coverage and other judges, prosecutors, and political leaders inquired about the new methods. The experimentation soon broadened beyond drug cases to those involving community issues, mental health, and domestic violence. In 2000 the Council of Chief Justices (CCJ), a group representing the chief justices of all state trial courts and the Council of State Court Administrators (COSCA), a group representing the state-wide court administrators of all state trial courts, named the courts using these new processes problem- solving courts.

Information was published in 2000 that encouraged these new problem-solving court practitioners. A national survey by the National Center for State Courts concluded that a significant segment of the public felt that "courts are too costly, too slow, unfair in the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, out of touch with the public, and negatively influenced by political considerations." The survey also noted that generally African Americans are the most critical and the least satisfied with the status quo. However, it found that a solid majority of those surveyed, including a high percentage of African Americans, support the methods used by the newly named problem-solving courts. This information encouraged other judges and courts to consider the establishment of problem-solving courts in their jurisdictions.

What are they?

What are problem-solving courts? Why are they more popular than other courts with the public-especially with some in the minority community? Why is the use of problem-solving techniques and practices expanding into many types of courts? The answers to these and many other questions are found in a new book by Greg Berman and John Feinblatt titled Good Courts: The Case for Problem-Solving Justice. Berman is the director of the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) in New York City and Feinblatt is the Criminal Justice Coordinator of the City of New York, having previously served as the founding director of CCI. The book takes a subject both authors are knowledgeable and passionate about and enlightens us through a pleasurable reading experience. In their own words, "This book is an attempt to describe the history, objectives, and achievements of a national movement toward problem-solving justice". …