The last 20 years have seen the creation and proliferation of problem-solving courts. These courts are different from the traditional criminal court in that they have specialized dockets, create a collaborative relationship between traditional court actors and outside organizations, and attempt to solve social problems rather than focus only on adjudicating cases. Evaluations of these courts are mostly positive, showing reduced recidivism among some types of offenders. Continued research is needed to justify the existence and growth of problem-solving courts.
Problem-solving courts, also called specialty courts, are a fairly recent, but rapidly growing development in the American criminal court system. Problem-solving courts are specialized courts that develop expertise in particular social problems, such as addiction, domestic violence, or family dysfunction, because their caseloads consist primarily of these types of criminal cases (Dorf & Fagan, 2003). The first of them was a drug court created in Dade County, Florida, in 1989 (Jeffries, 2005). Besides drug courts, the most common types of problem-solving courts are domestic violence courts, mental health courts, and community courts (Casey & Rottman, 2005).
While not all problem-solving courts are the same, they share common elements that distinguish them from traditional courts. First, they use judicial authority to address chronic social problems. Second, they go beyond simple adjudication of cases and attempt to change the future behavior of defendants through judicial supervision of therapeutic treatment. Finally, they work collaboratively with other criminal justice agencies, community groups, and social service providers to accomplish particular social outcomes, such as low recidivism, safer family environment, and increased sobriety (Berman & Feinblatt, 2001).