The first three so-called ‘ Problem Solving Courts’ are being piloted as part of the UK government’s new £900 million effort to address substance misuse in Britain.
The scheme will require offenders to seek substance addiction treatment or face harsher consequences. For more visit substancerehabilitation.com.
The first two courts will be launched at Liverpool and Teesside Crown Courts, an additional one at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court that will focus on female offenders with complex needs.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has stated that the new form of community sentencing will include “intense supervision and testing” to support rehabilitation. This will include a range of sanctions, including jail time, if offenders do not meet the terms of their sentence.
Offenders will see the same judge at least once a month, with supervision from the Probation Service. Wraparound services will be tailored to their individual needs, including substance abuse and addiction recovery, housing support and educational services.
Where appropriate – as determined by the court – there will be a requirement for individuals to undertake frequent, random drug testing.
What are Problem Solving Courts?
Problem-solving courts emerged first in the US and spread across the word as a response to greater understanding of how entrenched, complex needs, such as drug addiction and mental illness drive reoffending.
They offer a more holistic approach to crime and sentencing, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to retribution and towards a focus on the rehabilitative model.
The thing that makes problem-solving courts different from the current UK court approach is the way that community treatment and services are brought together with the judge as a predominant instrument for supporting long term behavior change.
Problem-solving courts make use of specialized community sentences that are specifically customized with the aim of changing offenders’ behavior and holding them accountable through regular monitoring by the judge.
Problem solving courts follow research that suggests tailored procedures for specific and complex crimes reduce re-offending. Courts of this kind that have been tried in Greater Manchester to focus on female offenders, in addition to Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) – an alternative family court for care proceedings, have shown success at reducing substance misuse.
A study by Lancaster University found that almost half of mothers who attended FDACs were no longer misusing substances by the end of proceedings. In addition, 37 per cent of families who engaged with the FDAC system were reunited or continued to live together compared with 25 per cent of comparison families.
Existing Problem Solving Courts
In addition to courts in North America, Australia and mainland Europe, Scotland has had problem solving courts since 2002. The Edinburgh Alcohol Problem Solving Court (APSC) provides alcohol-dependent offenders with a faster assessment and access to interventions, as well as consistent oversight by the Sheriff through progress reviews.
The APSC works through a partnership between the court, the local authority and a local treatment provider. Offenders receive a Community Payback Order, which incorporates alcohol addiction treatment, assistance in access to housing and other forms of support.
One Sherrif of a problem solving court in Forfar states “Where appropriate, I take a trauma-informed approach to deal with people by recognizing the potential impact of adverse childhood experiences, and take into account that some of the behaviors of the people before the court are a result of traumatic experiences.”
This kind of recognition within the justice system of the impact of trauma and other adverse life experience on health outcomes including addiction is an essential part of reducing rates of re-offending, self harm, suicide and overdose in offenders.
It takes the route of seeing the whole person as well as the crime committed in order to get individuals the support they need to overcome barriers to treatment and better life outcomes.
Problem solving courts are set to increase the number of suspended and community order sentences. Community orders are non-custodial sentences which require offenders to perform community service or unpaid work, observe a curfew, undergo treatment for drug or alcohol addiction or engage in training or education, to name a few, instead of going to prison.
They combine punishment with activities carried out in the community, with the aim of changing offenders’ behavior so that they don’t re-offend in the future, making amends to the victim of the crime or the local community, while ensuring punishment for the offence.
Research suggests that community and suspended sentence orders – also called court orders – are linked with reductions in proven re-offending compared to short term custody (jail sentence).
A recent study has shown that offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in custody re-offended at a higher rate than those with community or suspended sentence orders. This is in line with decades of research detailing the harm instead of help that prison provides to individuals with substance abuse issues.
As the understanding of addiction within the medical community advances, and informs policies across all areas of society from justice and policing to medical practice and housing, even education and employment; the approach to reducing substance abuse related harm adapts too.
Approaching addiction or drug related issues within society with the understanding that addiction is a disease allows for a more compassionate and measured response to the damage associated with alcohol and drug use.
Treating addiction and substance misuse as a disorder that individuals require treatment and therapy to heal from not only reduces stigma but increases opportunities for those struggling with addiction to get help.
Wrap Around Support
Perhaps most crucially, the groundbreaking scheme promises to provide wrap around support. This means providing housing, education, addiction treatment and other medical support as part of a centralized yet community-focused model. Currently, offenders often rely on the work of charities and other support groups to help them get back on their feet.
While engaging with groups dedicated to community support is beneficial, it can be unreliable, inaccessible and lack the structure that some people require. Drawing on the theory of operant conditioning, the problem solving courts provide clear rules to follow with punishment and reward both available.
Providing the environment required for overcoming addiction, healing and addressing the underlying causing one one’s substance abuse issues are essential to long term sobriety and rebuilding a life after drug and alcohol abuse.