Across the nation, more judges are embracing the concept of specialized treatment courts, where the idea is to mix punishment with treatment in cases where criminal behavior is the result of addiction or mental-health problems, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia has a drug court, a truancy court, a treatment court for juveniles, a domestic-violence misdemeanor court, a “community court” for nuisance crimes, a gun court that emphasizes anger-management treatment, and, starting just last week, a DUI court. A mental-health court is being explored.
“Treatment courts are the rage now,” said Bucks County Court Administrator Douglas Praul. New Jersey has 24 drug courts, and there is a tax court. Legal scholars say the trend toward specialized courts – known as “therapeutic jurisprudence” – is the result of the success of drug-treatment courts, which now number about 2,000 nationwide after starting in Florida in the late 1980s. University of Miami law professor Bruce Winick called it a “sea change in the role of the courts.” The notion of mixing treatment in with punishment, he said, was born of judges’ frustration with defendants who would not be criminals but for their addictions. “What was going on in the criminal-justice system really wasn’t working,” said Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Louis Presenza, who has been instrumental in setting up the city’s treatment courts. He said 77 percent of the offenders who enter drug court graduate, and about 91 percent of the graduates have remained conviction-free – and presumably drug-free – during the first year after graduation.