Problem-Solving Courts Spread, Provoke Criticism


In today’s drug courts, judges are cheerleaders and social workers as much as jurists, says the New York Times. New York State is pushing this approach to new frontiers, creating a homelessness court, domestic violence courts and mental health courts. Backed by the state’s chief judge, and bolstered by the court system’s own research, these new courts are trying to cut down on the number of people who appear in courtrooms over and over again.

Judges are now meant to know about the science of addiction, the pathology of wife batterers, the bureaucracy of welfare programs. “It’s a very important new revolution” in the way courts work, said Bruce Winick, a former health official who is now an expert on what he calls “therapeutic jurisprudence.” The Times says that while New York and California are at the forefront of the movement, there are hundreds of such courts nationwide, addressing problems like drug abuse and drunken driving; Anchorage has opened a court dedicated to dealing with the problems of veterans. As the number of “problem solving” courts has exploded, so has criticism. “At what point do you say, ‘O.K., we have enough poor people under court control?’ ” asked Robin Steinberg of the Bronx Defenders. Said trial judge James Yates of Manhattan: “We are sliding backward, without even realizing it, toward an inquisitorial system of justice.”


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