New ‘problem-solving’ courts will cut costs

New ‘problem-solving’ courts will cut costs

5 March 2016

Originally published in The Times

Frances Gibb

American-style “problem-solving” courts could be extended nationwide after a study found that they save taxpayers thousands of pounds per case.


Research suggests that each case using the pioneering method — in which judges and magistrates hold special sessions to advise offenders on how to beat drug or alcohol addictions — would save £2.30 for every £1 spent.


The report by the Centre for Justice Innovation will be welcomed by ministers who are keen to promote the courts across the justice system if a financial case can be made to the Treasury.


Last month the prime minister announced a working group to examine how to deliver problem-solving courts in England and Wales.


The courts, which were first set up in Miami in 1989, were designed to stop the constant revolving door between reoffending and prison.


The report examined the original family drug and alcohol court, which opened in London in 2008, as well as 12 others that have been set up in the past two years in 19 local authority areas.


Such courts mainly deal with families at risk of having their children permanently removed because of drug or alcohol addiction. In each case, £17,000 less is spent on adoption and fostering because children are supported to help stay with their families.


Parents are also more likely to combat addictions, saving £5,000 per case by reducing the time the NHS spends treating them and cutting the time that the criminal justice system spends prosecuting drug-related crime.


The report highlights research on 90 families. It found marked success rates, with many more children remaining with their mothers and 75 per cent avoiding relapse in the first year, compared with 25 per cent going through traditional courts.


Judge Nicholas Crichton, the founding judge of the method in the UK, said that the court was “tough but fair towards all the families it supervises”. He added: “Parents are given a chance to work hard and overcome their drug and alcohol problems in order to show that they’re ‘good enough parents’ for their children.”


David Cameron noted in his speech on prisons last month that almost 20 American states had now adopted what is called a “tough love” approach.


The programmes worked, he said, because “instead of an uncertain and often random sentence, delivered months or sometimes even years after a crime is committed, this is far more instantaneous and much more demanding for the offender.”


Phil Bowen, from the Centre for Justice Innovation, a justice research charity, said: “It’s encouraging that problem-solving in the family courts not only delivers better justice, an important achievement in itself, but also offers a cost-effective way to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families.”