By Jordan Posner, CFCC Student Fellow 2015-2016
Our journey in the CFCC Student Fellows Program class last week addressed the importance of problem-solving courts that can be holistic approaches for individuals in the judicial system. They can also serve as a type of intervention before a person becomes involved with the justice system (e.g., Teen Court). Deeply rooted in therapeutic jurisprudence, these alternatives have the ability to rehabilitate, save lives, and address the root causes of a personal or family issue(s).
Five problem-solving courts were examined by my fellow law students. They include:
- Domestic Violence Court – Domestic Violence Courts are specialized courts that were created in the 1990s. These courts allow judges to ensure that cases are properly followed and monitored, while assisting victims of domestic violence and holding offenders accountable. They work with the assistance of justice and social service agencies.
- Family Dependency Treatment Court – A Family Dependency Treatment Court is a court devoted to cases of child abuse and/or neglect where the parents have substance abuse problems. The court’s purpose is to protect the safety and welfare of the children, while giving the parents the tools they need to become sober and responsible. The court evaluates the family’s situation to create a plan which will address the needs of both the parents and the children to ensure permanency in the home. These courts offer parents a viable chance to achieve sobriety, provide a safe and nurturing home for their children, and hold their families together.
- Drug Court – Addicted individuals may become involved with Drug Court as an alternative to traditional justice system case processing. Drug Courts help individuals with treatment and proper supervision, in an effort to address their substance use issues.
- Veterans Treatment Court – Veterans Treatment Courts recognize that veterans have unique challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, and mental health concerns. These courts seek to treat veterans suffering from a substance abuse and/or mental health disorder, while helping to ensure public safety. These specialty courts combine drug treatment and accountability to help the veterans understand their issues and treat any addictions. Veterans Treatment Courts are modeled after Drug Courts, which promote collaboration among the judiciary, community agencies, drug treatment providers, and other community support groups.
- Teen/Youth Court – Youth courts are youth driven alternatives to court and school disciplinary proceedings, rather than being handled through the traditional juvenile court and/or school systems. Most Youth Courts require an admission of wrongdoing and function as a sentencing hearing only. Depending on the program model, youth can serve as judges, jurors, prosecutors, defenders, clerks, and bailiffs. Generally, students are referred to Youth Courts for behaviors such as larceny, criminal mischief, vandalism, truancy, drug offenses, and many others.
I never realized the plethora of alternatives that exist to the traditional court model prior to participating in this class. Nonetheless, I am grateful for their existence. In my opinion, problem-solving courts are necessary, and the more that exist, the better we are. Traditional courts have proven over and over that they fall short in therapeutic jurisprudence. The problem-solving courts pick up the slack. Each of these five problem-solving courts has succeeded in its own right in decreasing drug use and crime, while promoting community involvement. Judges and lawyers are increasingly advocating for the use of problem-solving courts, in opposition to sending a person to a traditional court. Furthermore, there is a societal shift trending toward alternative forms of punishment.
The low numbers of problem-solving courts are what alarms me. The positive impact of problem-solving courts is clear; however, I am concerned that we are not replicating these courts throughout the United State in every jurisdiction. As a result, the successes are, in my opinion, falling short. Take the Veterans Courts, for instance. I posed a question in class pertaining to the availability of this option and was told that there are not nearly as many as one would think, especially compared to the number of veterans in densely populated regions. In fact, on October 13th, just two days ago, Maryland opened the doors to a Veterans Court Docket, which will take place in Baltimore City. This marks the first of its kind in the area. It is my hope that Maryland continues to establish these courts in all other counties. This is one type of court that is in high demand.
While I do not know for sure, I would suspect the reason for the low numbers of Veterans Courts and the others listed above is funding. I want to see these problem-solving courts grow and succeed. I believe they will, but it is going to take time. These alternatives are necessary and should not be thought about in dollar amounts. Lastly, there is no uniform legislation. Each state has the power to pass legislation to have any number of these courts, but, sadly, many do not. Even more daunting, despite the clear positive impacts, the only logical conclusion I can make for the lack of uniformity in these courts across states, is they are not seen as a priority.
As I mentioned, I remain optimistic. There is so much that these courts have to offer that the traditional justice system model does not. But the issue remains, what can we do to continue to change the minds of the legislators, judges, and everyone else who are nonbelievers that problem- solving courts are necessary and that they work?