The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have backed the idea of piloting problem-solving courts in England and Wales, but as yet there is not clear plan for putting this into practice. This paper offers an affordable, deliverable and practical plan for developing a set of 10 new pilot projects which can begin to hear cases in 2017.
Evidence shows that when problem-solving courts are used correctly they can reduce crime and cut costs by putting judges at the centre of rehabilitation. Housed in existing court buildings, they harness the authority of the court and the social services which can address the causes of crime and other social problems. Each court specialises in a distinct issue, whether it’s a problem such as drug addiction, or a type of crime like domestic abuse.
There are already a small number of problem-solving courts in England and Wales. These range from the Choices and Consequences programme in Hertfordshire, a Crown Court project which works with prolific, non-violent offenders, to pilot problem-solving projects in the youth courts through to the thirteen Family Drug and Alcohol courts (FDAC) that tackle parental substance misuse in the family justice system.
Delivering problem-solving courts
Our plan is guided by the insight that our existing problem-solving courts a built on leadership from local judges and the commitment of local services to a new way of working. They highlight that the resources to deliver sustainable approaches are already present in local areas. All that is needed is to bring them together in a new way.
Therefore, we’re calling for support for our existing problem-solving courts alongside a suite of new projects. In order to ensure consistency and evidence-based practice, new sites will need to be carefully selected by senior judiciary and supported by a national practice development team who can provide sites with advice on proven approaches that have been tested elsewhere and support in innovating and experimenting with new services.
An innovation that works
As our recent review demonstrates, there is a wealth of evidence to support problem-solving courts. We found that:
- There is strong evidence that adult drug courts reduce substance misuse and re-offending. They are particularly effective with offenders who present a higher risk of re-offending.
- High quality international evidence suggests that mental health courts are likely to reduce reoffending, although they may not directly impact on offenders’ mental health.
- The evidence on problem-solving domestic violence courts’ impact on victims is good. The evidence on their ability to reduce re-offending is promising. This is encouraging when set against the lack of other effective options for reducing re-offending by perpetrators of domestic violence.
- There is promising evidence to support the application of the key features of problem-solving courts to two specific groups of offenders: female offenders at risk of custody, and young adults.
- Key features of problem-solving courts may be especially relevant for young offenders with complex needs at risk of custody in youth court. However we must bear in mind the clear evidence that, where possible, youth offenders should be kept away from the formal system as court appearances themselves increase offending.