Problem-Solving Courts

In recent years, Problem-Solving Courts, also referred to as Specialty Courts, have been established to deal with the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior.  We’re going to take a closer look today at two of these courts.

The following information on Family Drug Courts (in quotes) and additional information is from an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention document:

Family Drug Courts (FDCs) handle cases of child abuse and neglect that involve substance use by the child’s parents or guardians (Brook et al. 2015; Chuang et al. 2012). The overall goal of FDCs is to reduce child maltreatment by treating parents’ underlying substance use disorders through a coordinated and collaborative approach that involves a multitude of agencies and professionals such as the court system, child protective services (CPS), substance use treatment providers, and the attorneys involved in the case (Pach 2008; Gifford et al.).

FDCs identify and assess parents’ needs, provide access to treatment, attempt to remove barriers that may impact successful completion of treatment (such as helping parents to develop skills to achieve recovery), and provide ongoing monitoring of parental compliance (Pach 2008).  Children’s needs are simultaneously addressed, as the likelihood of reunification is increased when family and children’s services are provided at a high level in substance use treatment (Grella et al. 2009).

There have been fewer evaluation studies (less than 20) conducted on the effectiveness of FDCs, compared with the number of studies (more than 50) of adult drug courts (Gifford et al. 2014; van Wormer and Hsieh 2016).  A descriptive study of the Children Affected by Methamphetamine (CAM) grant program found that when child-focused services with adult recovery-support services were offered in the FDC setting, parental substance use was reduced, parents’ participation in substance use disorder treatment was improved, children were subjected to less neglect and abuse, and out-of-home placements were shorter (Rodi et al. 2015).”

The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) administers the Mental Health Courts Program.

The following information (in quotes) on Mental Health Courts and additional information is available on the BJA Website:

“Mental health courts typically involve judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other court personnel who have expressed an interest in or possess particular mental health expertise. The courts generally deal with nonviolent offenders who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. Today, more than 150 of these courts exist, and more are being planned.

The goal of BJA’s Mental Health Court grant program is to decrease the frequency of clients’ contacts with the criminal justice system by providing courts with resources to improve clients’ social functioning and link them to employment, housing, treatment, and support services.

BJA funds projects that emphasize:

  • Continuing judicial supervision—including periodic review—over preliminarily qualified offenders with mental illness or co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders who are charged with misdemeanors and/or nonviolent offenses.
  • Specialized training of criminal justice personnel to identify and address the unique needs of offenders who are mentally ill or intellectually disabled.
  • Voluntary outpatient or inpatient mental health treatment, in the least restrictive manner appropriate as determined by the court, that carries with it the possibility of dismissal of charges or reduced sentencing on successful completion of treatment.
  • Centralized case management and the coordination of all mental health treatment plans and social services, including life skills training, placement, health care, and relapse prevention.”

A research study by the Urban Institute of two long-standing Mental Health Courts in Brooklyn and Bronx, New York, found that mental health court participants are significantly less likely to recidivate than similar offenders with mental illness who experience business-as-usual court processing.

For a look at Safe Babies Court Teams, visit the Preserving Families Blog at


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director




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