Problem-Solving Courts: Models and Trends*

By Casey, Pamela M.; Rottman, David B. | Justice System Journal, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Problem-Solving Courts: Models and Trends*


Casey, Pamela M., Rottman, David B., Justice System Journal


In 2004, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators reaffirmed their commitment to advance the study, evaluation, and integration of problem-solving methods and principles into the administration of justice. This article describes four of the most prominent American problem-solving court models in terms of their origins, key practices, variety, and success to date, noting specific features or issues that are distinctive to each model. It concludes with twelve trends that provide insight into where these courts now stand and appear to be headed in the future.

During the last decade, problem-solving courts became an important feature of the American court landscape. Developed in response to frustration by both the court system and the public to the large numbers of cases that seemed to be disposed repeatedly but not resolved, problem-solving courts offer the promise of a more meaningful resolution of court cases involving individuals with psychosocial problems as well as legal issues.

Problem-solving courts vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and by different case types within a jurisdiction, but all focus on closer collaboration with the service communities in their jurisdictions and stress a collaborative, multidisciplinary, problem-solving approach to address the underlying issues of individuals appearing in court. This article describes four prominent American problem-solving courts: community, domestic violence, drug, and mental health courts. Each description provides an overview of the origins, evolution, variety, and success to date of the problem-solving court model and notes special issues related to each type of court.

In 2000 and again in 2004, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, the policy leaders of the state court systems in the United States, passed resolutions in support of problem-solving courts. These resolutions called for, in part, "the careful study and evaluation of the principles and methods employed in problem-solving courts and their application to other significant issues facing state courts." It also encouraged, "where appropriate, the broad integration over the next decade of the principles and methods employed in the problem-solving courts into the administration of justice to improve court processes and outcomes."

Problem-solving courts are now at a critical juncture: Will they remain on the periphery of the court system or be integrated within the traditional system as suggested by the chief justices and state court administrators? The last section of this article offers some current trends and factors likely to affect the next generation of problem-solving courts.

PROBLEM-SOLVING COURT MODELS

Community Courts

Background and Goals

Community courts emerged with the convergence of several trends. First, trial courts in the United States became overly centralized and consolidated; court outreach programs from downtown courthouses did not bridge the gap between courts and communities. Second, court interventions in repeat misdemeanor offenses were not effective, creating a revolving door syndrome. Third, widespread implementation of community policing seemed to demonstrate the value of a locally informed, problem-solving approach to criminal justice. Finally, the "broken windows" perspective provided a policy umbrella under which locally focused courts were a logical component.1

These trends converged most forcefully in New York City where, after two years of intensive planning, the Midtown Community Court opened in 1993 "as a three-year demonstration project, designed to test the ability of criminal courts to forge closer links with the community and develop a collaborative problem-solving approach to quality-of-life offenses" (Sviridoff et al., 2002:1). Located in New York City's Times Square area, it serves a residential community of 120,000 in addition to a concentration of corporate, commercial, and tourist businesses. …

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