Caution needed over problem-solving courts

Thursday, 13 October, 2016

Caution is needed over plans to extend the use of so-called 'problem-solving courts', if they are not to become problem-creating courts, our Director Richard Garside said today.

Richard was reacting to a call from more than 30 criminal justice professionals, in letter published in yesterday's Times newspaper (£), for the government to pilot a new network of problem-solving courts. The call comes as supporters of problem-solving courts warn that plans set out by former Justice Secretary Michael Gove are losing momentum under his successor, Liz Truss.

Yet questions remain about the efficacy and desirablity of problem-solving courts. A 2011 review of one such court – the North Liverpool Community Justice Court – by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies found evidence that tougher sentences were being handed out than at comparable courts.

More recently, an evidence review, published by the Centre for Justice Innovation in August 2016, found that juvenile drug courts had 'minimal or harmful impacts on young offenders'. It also pointed to the risk of people being unnecessarily drawn into the court system, or being subjected to inappropriate supervision and enforcement action.

Richard said:

Those advocating for a new network of problem-solving courts are doing so with the best of intentions. But we need to be careful that problem-solving courts do not become problem-creating courts.

The fact remains that there is little strong evidence that problem-solving courts solve problems, and a fair bit to suggest that they might make the problem worse.

There is a strong argument for better health and welfare support for law-breakers with drug, alcohol, housing and other personal problems. This is best delivered through mainstream provision.

Using the court process as a bespoke health and welfare service for law-breakers is more likely to be harmful than helpful.