Problem Solving Courts

Problem solving courts represent a shift in the way the justice system traditionally handles offenders with issues involving substance abuse, mental health or other behavioral health issues. The goal of these courts is to achieve long-term quality recovery and prevent repeat criminal behavior.

The nation's first problem solving court was implemented in 1989, with the establishment of the first drug court in Miami, Florida. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency's involvement and support of problem solving courts began in 1999, with the funding of the first drug treatment court in Philadelphia. Since that time, PCCD, through its Office of Criminal Justice System Improvements, has provided financial and technical support to nearly three dozen problem solving courts, including Drug, DUI and Mental Health courts statewide.

In 2005, PCCD sponsored the first Treatment Court Symposium in Pennsylvania. PCCD also provided assistance to drug court practitioners with a number of training and educational opportunities, which eventually led to the formation of the Pennsylvania Association of Drug Court Professionals. In 2006, PCCD awarded a grant to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) to provide interdisciplinary training to the existing and emerging drug treatment courts in Pennsylvania.

Many jurisdictions nationwide have implemented problem solving courts to address a variety of social issues that have emerged in the traditional court system, including homelessness, drug addiction and domestic violence. All 50 state-court chief justices and court administrators have endorsed the further expansion of problem solving justice, as has the American Bar Association. These courts also operate or are being planned in other countries, including Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland.

Court personnel work with prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers and other justice system partners to develop strategies to provide positive reinforcement for offenders who successfully complete a treatment program and abstain from repeating the behaviors that brought them to court. Each problem-solving court effectively targets offender groups with appropriate levels of supervision and treatment.

PCCD promotes planning at the local level and encourages counties in Pennsylvania to develop Criminal Justice Advisory Boards (CJABs). PCCD views the CJAB as the primary vehicle for effective collaboration, planning and critical decision making within the county. PCCD encourages county CJABs to develop strategic plans that identify priorities within the county. Since 2007, PCCD has provided non-categorical funding opportunities to counties to support initiatives and priorities identified in their strategic plans, which have included the establishment of problem-solving courts.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) provides oversight and technical assistance for the procedural development of all problem-solving courts. In addition, AOPC has developed accreditation standards for Drug and DUI Courts in Pennsylvania and counties can apply to AOPC for accreditation. As PCCD reviews grant applications seeking start-up funds for problem solving courts, it gives preference to those counties that agree to seek accreditation through AOPC.