B. Objectives of Problem-Solving Courts
A main objective of problem-solving courts is to go beyond mere case processing by attempting to address the needs of offenders, victims, and the community. The frustration with the state of misdemeanor justice in the traditional criminal courts and a desire to change the actions of criminals, improve the safety of victims, and enhance the quality of life in residential communities are the main forces behind problem-solving courts (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005).
Problem-solving courts attempt to change criminal behavior through court-ordered and -monitored treatment and more accountability in sentencing. Drug courts require substance abuse treatment as a condition of participation in the court. While drug treatment has long been used in sentencing by traditional criminal courts, the increased involvement by the judge in monitoring progress and compliance is a key component of drug treatment courts.
Community courts primarily deal with low-level public order offenders who have traditionally been sentenced to jail time or fines that seem to hold no deterrent effect. Judges in community courts are more likely now to sentence prostitutes, panhandlers, vandals, and other public order offenders to immediate sentences of visible community service (Berman & Feinblatt, 2005). In addition to these community service sentences, substance abuse treatment, employment counseling, housing assistance, and other services are typically available to assist the offender in overcoming some of the underlying causes of crime.
Addressing the needs of the victim is another objective of some problem-solving courts. This is particularly true with domestic violence courts. Ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence is paramount in these courts. Judges presiding in domestic violence courts regularly issue restraining orders preventing offenders from having contact with their victims. Victims typically are brought to the court to make contact with victim services personnel so that they can receive other services such as counseling and safe shelter. In fact, some would argue that because domestic violence courts place the safety needs of the victim over the treatment needs of the offender, these courts are different from most other problem-solving courts and probably should not be identified with them (Casey & Rottman, 2005).
Enhancing the quality of life in residential communities is a major objective of many problem-solving courts, in particular community courts. Considering that the community is the “victim” of many public order crimes, community courts draw from the resources in the community to identify and then address ways in which communities suffer from these crimes. Residents are surveyed to identify levels of fear and concern over community crime.With this information, community leaders including court personnel, law enforcement, and business owners can work with residents to combat crime and address other concerns. Much of the work to improve the appearance of the community is done either by volunteers or by offenders sentenced to community service (Berman & Fox, 2005).
C. Why Problem-Solving Courts Are Important
Problem-solving courts are important because they attempt to address the deficiencies of the traditional criminal courts. The traditional criminal court may do a good job handling more serious violent offenders where incarceration is the expected and usual outcome. However, the effective handling of minor offenders requires something more than short periods of incarceration. Other defendants, such as drug users and mentally ill offenders, would seem to benefit more in the long run from mandated treatment rather than punishment alone. The deficiencies of the traditional court in handling the specific needs of victims and particular communities give reason to expect more from the judicial system that some problem-solving courts are better suited to provide. Ultimately, the measured effectiveness of problem-solving courts to adequately address these needs will determine how important they are.