Problem-Solving Courts Give More Than Band Aids: They Solve Problems

The American criminal justice system requires people who are convicted of crimes to pay their debts back to society. However, this does not mean that people who have been convicted should pay for the rest of their lives (at least when the debt they owe to society is not as severe). Mistakes happen. Everyone makes them at some time or another.

Although everyone makes mistakes, this does not mean that everyone who commits a crime is exactly the same. Each person’s life has a different set of circumstances, and people who make mistakes make them in different ways and for different reasons.

The criminal justice system has a solution for the way mistakes are made: problem-solving courts.

Problem-solving courts are interested in looking at each situation and the individual circumstances in order to find the best way to solve a problem presented by someone who is accused of committing a crime.

Many times, the best way to solve these problems is to find ways to make sure that someone pays their debt back to society in a productive way. For example, community service specific to the crime committed may be ordered for a crime like theft or vandalism, rather than time behind bars.

In circumstances where the law requires jail time, problem-solving courts are looking into ways to make opportunities available to people who have learned from their mistakes to ensure those mistakes aren’t repeated–and that society is not subject to repeat crimes by the same people.

Here’s an example: In states like Virginia, a person can be convicted of a felony for writing a bad check for more than $200. Problem-solving courts attempt to recognize the difference between violent and nonviolent felonies, as convicted felons of any type can have a difficult time finding a place to live and getting a job after serving time in prison. A $200 bad check is a different sort of crime compared to a violent crime like assault.

Having a stable living situation and a steady job are undoubtedly important ways for people to stay out of trouble. Problem-solving courts understand this, which is why they do what they can to connect people with social services to make sure their lives are as stable as possible after release from jail or prison.

This includes making a living. Problem-solving courts, where appropriate, give options to people to pay debts to society in ways other than jail. People who take advantage of this option end up making about twice as much as people who do not take advantage of these options, according to studies on these problem-solving courts.

More income ultimately provides people with incentive to clean up their lives where needed, including getting off drugs, keeping a job, reconnecting with children and making life goals. In the end, all of these things are better for society as a whole.


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