Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Problem-Solving Courts: From a Maryland Perspective
Through the CFCC Student Fellows Program, I was afforded the opportunity to learn how the integration of therapeutic jurisprudence, the ecology of human development, and problem-solving courts work together to impact children and their families. Problem-solving courts attempt to address the underlying problem that is responsible for the immediate dispute and to help the individuals before the court to effectively deal with the dispute in ways that will prevent reoccurrence with court involvement. Problem-solving courts use principles of therapeutic jurisprudence to enhance their functioning, which translates to rehabilitating the offender and the transformational use of the legal process (role of judge, multidisciplinary involvement, close monitoring of the offender). These problem-solving courts typically deal with individuals who need social, mental health, or substance abuse services. By utilizing the therapeutic jurisprudence approach in problem-solving courts, an offender’s likelihood of recidivating significantly declines due to the court system’s approach of interacting with the offender in a non-punitive manner.
There are various types of problem-solving courts that have been implemented in the United States. In Maryland, we have several types of these courts, including: drug courts (adult, juvenile, and family), mental health courts, and truancy reduction courts. 1 The drug courts in Maryland typically entail a court team working together in a non-adversarial setting with a goal of restoring the defendant as a productive member of society. 2 According to the National Drug Court Resource Center, the average graduation rate for the programs is 53%. 3 In addition, those who participated in the juvenile drug treatment court programs had lower recidivism rates (53%) and lower numbers of new arrests 18 months (70%) after completion of the program compared to those who did not participate in the program. 4 In Maryland’s mental health courts, participants are identified through mental health screening and mental health assessments, and they voluntarily participate in a treatment plan developed by a team comprised of court staff and mental health professionals. According to data collected by The Institute for Governmental Service and Research (IGSR), University of Maryland-College Park, for the Baltimore City mental health court participants, the most severe arrest charge is assault (32%), with drug related charges (19%) following right behind. 5
Lastly, the truancy reduction courts in Maryland were created to improve school attendance and the offenders’ views of education by establishing a bond among the family, school, and juvenile master or judge. According to a national May 2012 report, "The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools,” 10% to15% of students in the United States are chronically absent from school. This translates to least 5 to 7.5 million students missing at least 10% of the school year.6Such startling statistics are the reason why the Maryland judiciary has implemented several truancy reduction courts. Apart from the Maryland judiciary, other truancy court programs, such as the Center for Children, Families, and the Courts school-based Truancy Court Program (TCP), have been implemented in order to attack this problem. During the 2011- 2012 school year, there was a 71% average reduction in unexecused absences for Baltimore City TCP participants in Fall 2011.
I hope the Maryland judiciary continues the trend to utilize problem-solving courts, as these courts are effective at resolving underlying issues to prevent offenders from recidivating.