So you want to start a Problem Solving Court...

Andrea Koppenhofer, JD

Over the past 25 years, we have seen the development of problem-solving courts in the justice system across the Nation.   The emergence of this approach has been aimed at addressing the barriers to the issues that brought the parties before the court. Problem-solving courts are designed to use the power of the court to promote positive outcomes that benefit the offender, the victim and society through system change and collaboration. As one might expect, there are concerns with this approach.  Do these specialized courts service only a small group? Is this a drain on resources which would otherwise be used for those litigants or defendants who do not qualify for problem-solving court participation? Those issues will likely continue to be debated until enough data is gathered to answer them. In the meantime, many jurisdictions are convinced by the demonstrated evidence-based success in jurisdictions in Georgia, New York, Minnesota and many others. Courts in these jurisdictions have reduced recidivism, reduced prison costs, increased child support collection and generally resulted in safer communities and stronger families. If you are already convinced this is a path for your or are interested in seeing these improvements in your jurisdiction here is a skeletal plan to get you started.

Experts agree that there is no cookie-cutter court model and in fact it is discouraged. However, looking at other models and developing a plan is integral to success. The plan must be developed through collaboration. Successful problem-solving courts are broader than just the judiciary. A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work because the agencies involved and the resources available vary significantly from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The first critical step is identifying the stakeholders. Understanding who will be impacted by the establishment of the court and who can offer resources or guidance is critical to setting up a program that truly addresses the needs of the community. Within the identified Stakeholder group, a steering board or “Champions” should be identified.  These are the representatives of the stakeholder community who can provide guidance, resources and leadership to the process. Once this key group is identified the next step is a first meeting. At this meeting the champions will collaborate and develop a vision for the problem-solving court. Subsequent meetings will be used to develop the program. Resources will need to be defined, examining questions such as: What resources are currently available? Will additional funding be needed? What funding resources are available? The stakeholders will need to develop program phases for implementation and plan for education and training of the stakeholders and the program staff throughout the program. Finally a plan for periodic program evaluation will need to be developed.

It takes a leader to plant the seed or get the ball rolling, but it takes the community to engage, create and implement the plan.

If your court or jurisdiction would like to start a problem-solving court, need help in strengthening an existing problem solving court, or collaborate to improve outcomes for parties, the experienced professionals at Grays Peak Strategies can help you achieve your vision. Use the contact link on this page and we will be happy to reach out for a consultation.