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Problem-Solving Courts: Alternatives for Communities and Offenders

The following post appears courtesy of the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You may have heard about problem-solving courts such as drug courts, which have been in use since the early 1990s and are intended to combine drug treatment and court monitoring to help offenders stay out of prison and avoid repeating their offenses. Since the first drug court was launched in Dade County, Florida in 1989, at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in Miami, drug courts have received enormous public attention and acclaim. This is for good reason: drug courts are viewed by many scholars as one of the most successful criminal justice innovations in the last 25 years, and have attracted bipartisan support, along with millions of dollars from Congress. Their success has inspired other innovation which you may be less familiar with.   For example, another type of problem-solving court -- community courts -- are neighborhood-focused courts that attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems, including drug possession, shoplifting, vandalism and assault. Like drug courts, community courts link addicted offenders to judicially-monitored drug treatment. But they typically handle a broader caseload (for example, all misdemeanors in a given set of neighborhoods) and make use of a broader array of mandates, including job training and community restitution. Community courts strive to create new relationships with diverse stakeholders such as residents, merchants, churches and schools. They also test new and aggressive approaches to public safety rather than merely responding to crime after it has occurred. The first community court in the U.S. was the Midtown Community Court, launched in 1993 in New York City by the Center for Court Innovation. Some three dozen community courts, inspired by the Midtown model Red Hook Community Justice Center, are currently in operation around the U.S. and a number of others are being planned. Some evidence suggests community courts can achieve significant results with drug-addicted defendants. For example, in a research study conducted at the Midtown Community Court, re-arrest rates dropped sharply among individuals who completed more than 90 days of court-ordered drug treatment. Additionally, Midtown saw street prostitution drop 56 percent within 18 months of the court's opening and unlicensed vending was down 24 percent. At the end of 2007, Red Hook’s police precinct was recognized as #1 in New York City for the largest reduction in major crime over the previous two-year period. The New York Police Department credited three things: their own tactics, the community, and the Justice Center. Another positive result of the court is reflected in the opinion of the court by defendants and citizens. In a recent survey, 85 percent of Red Hook defendants felt that their case was handled fairly, and 93 percent felt that the judge treated them fairly. In Red Hook, approval ratings of courts increased from 13 percent just prior to opening to a 78 percent approval rating for the Justice Center in a recent community survey. The Department of Justice will continue to support and pursue innovative methods to effectively fight crime and keep our neighborhoods safe. Community courts have proven a remarkably effective way to do just that, and are a perfect example of the successes possible when law enforcement agencies and community leaders work together. More information about problem solving courts is available  here and here.
Updated April 7, 2017