A number of problem-solving courts have gone into operation in Pennsylvania in recent years — and more are on the way.
The first problem-solving court in Pennsylvania opened in Philadelphia in 1997 as an adult drug court program. Since then, the problem-solving court movement in the Commonwealth has expanded to include driving under the influence (DUI) courts, mental health courts, juvenile drug courts and veterans courts.
These innovative courts — sometimes referred to as treatment courts — focus on specific types of behaviors or conditions, often linked to crime and social problems. These behavioral problems, particularly drug addiction and untreated severe mental illness, have a major impact on the courts, jails and prisons.
The goal of problem-solving courts is to supervise the treatment and rehabilitation of carefully screened and selected defendants to try to change their behavior. Instead of a jail sentence, defendants are given counseling, treatment for their addictions or illnesses, educational assistance and healthcare support.
The progress of each defendant is strictly monitored by the court. Success depends on a partnership between the criminal justice system and the participant.
Defendants who complete their court-supervised programs and graduate may have the charges that brought them to court dismissed and/or their term of supervision reduced. Their criminal records may be expunged.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania officially recognized problem-solving courts in 2006, appointing a statewide coordinator and establishing an advisory committee to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to support these programs.
As problem-solving courts have expanded in Pennsylvania, so too have coordination efforts with executive and legislative offices at the county, state and federal levels.
Diverting certain nonviolent defendants into a problem solving court rather than jail has been shown to stem the number of repeat offenders, trim costly jail expenses, improve lives and strengthen families.
Veterans Courts assist veterans charged with crimes through volunteer mentor training and specialized probation officers. Learn more.
Working with criminal justice partners, drug courts combine judicial supervision, treatment, sanctions and incentives to help break the cycle of drug addiction and crime. Learn more.
DUI courts are dedicated to changing the behavior of DUI offenders. Learn more.
Juvenile drug courts incorporate specialized services for youth and their families. Learn more.
Mental health courts partner with policymakers to divert defendants with mental illness into judicially supervised programs. Learn more.