Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts are separate courts or dockets that operate as an alternative to adjudication or incarceration for defendants charged or convicted with nonviolent offenses. These programs offer clients court accountability, intensive supervision, drug testing, and treatment for substance misuse disorders, mental health conditions, and other issues. Drug, mental health, and veteran’s courts are the most common problem-solving models, with 3,000 in existence around the country.

Problem-solving courts typically target individuals deemed high-risk for recidivism and in high need of services based on validated, objective risk-needs assessment tools. Space is usually limited in these courts and they are very demanding on and intense for the participants.

Each problem-solving courts has a team that is responsible for implementing the daily operations. Teams include the judge, a prosecutor, a public defender, probation officers, treatment provider, and a coordinator. The team collaborates to improve client outcomes by alleviating mental health, social, or substance abuse issues by providing treatment, services, and intensive supervision. The team is also responsible for developing a case management plan, a clinical treatment plan, and a discharge plan for the monitoring, supervision, and therapeutic interventions of a PSC participant.

The first problem-solving court in the country was a drug court started in Dade County, Fla., in 1989. The first recovery court in Tennessee was founded by retired Judge Seth Norman of the 20th Judicial District (Davidson County-Nashville) in 1997. Read more hear about Judge Norman and the Davidson County Drug Court as well as here. The Davidson County Drug Court is now overseen by Judge Jennifer Smith. Read more here.

“The work done by Judge Norman empowers agencies and communities to work together on innovative ways to address addiction and make our neighborhoods healthier, and thus, safer,” said TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker at Judge Norman’s retirement. “It empowers participants to beat the odds and triumph over adversity.”

In 1997, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) convened a group of experts to develop a unified conceptualization of the drug court model making it distinguishable, measureable, and understandable. The convening resulted in 10 key components for effective drug courts, and research has shown that noncompliance with the components reduces the success and cost-effectiveness of drug courts by as much 50 percent.

The 10 key components are:

  1. Drug courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.
  2. Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants’ due process rights.
  3. Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program.
  4. Drug courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
  5. Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
  6. A coordinated strategy governs drug court responses to participants’ compliance.
  7. Ongoing judicial interaction with each drug court participant is essential.
  8. Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
  9. Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective drug court planning, implementation, and operations.
  10. Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances local support and enhances drug court effectiveness.[31]

The key components guide courts to utilize assessments, case staffings, status hearings, use of rewards and sanctions, therapeutic responses, and treatment.

Recovery Courts in Tennessee

Currently, there are 82 recovery courts in Tennessee that are judicially supervised court dockets that reduce correctional costs, protect community safety, and improve public welfare. 86 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have recovery courts.

For more information on recovery courts, please visit our partners:

TN Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – Recovery Court Page

TN Association of Recovery Court Professionals