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Disconnecting Mental Illness and Substance Abuse from Crime

Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts represent a shift in the way the justice system traditionally handles offenders with substance abuse, mental health, or other behavioral health issues. The goal of these courts is to bring about long-term, quality recovery while preventing criminal activity from continuing.

Working with prosecutors, public defenders, and other justice system partners, court personnel create strategies that promote positive reinforcement to offenders. Those offenders must have successfully completed treatment programs and abstained from repeating the behaviors that brought them to court.

PCCD funds county initiatives that advance problem-solving courts. The primary vehicle for support at the county level is Criminal Justice Advisory Boards (CJABs), which PCCD views as exceptional for collaborating, planning, and making decisions.

Since funding the first drug treatment court in Philadelphia in 1999, PCCD has provided financial and technical support to dozens of drug, DUI, and mental health courts statewide. PCCD sponsored the first Treatment Court Symposium in Pennsylvania, and, through training assistance to drug court practitioners, helped give rise to the Pennsylvania Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) oversees technical assistance and procedural development of all problem-solving courts, and has established accreditation standards for drug and DUI courts in Pennsylvania. For those counties requesting funding to start problem-solving courts, PCCD gives preference to organizations accredited by AOPC.

The problem-solving court model has caught on with jurisdictions nationwide to address such social issues as homelessness, drug addiction, and domestic violence. The American Bar Association (ABA), all 50 state-court chief justices, and court administrators have endorsed expanding problem-solving justice. Canada, Scotland, New Zealand, and other countries have been adopting the model, as well.

Intermediate Punishment

PCCD is responsible for administering approximately $18 million annually in state funding to counties for Intermediate Punishment (IP), which is a sentencing method that provides an alternative to incarceration and delivers treatment for alcohol and drug issues related to crimes for offenders at Levels 2, 3, and 4 of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines. With the passage of Act 115 of 2019, Intermediate Punishment is included as a type of Probation with Restrictive Conditions. 

For example, a non-violent offender with DUI-related charges sentenced to IP could experience a mix of incarceration and two or more sanctions that addresses both the offender’s needs and public safety. Sanctions can include the following: house arrest; intensive supervision; electronic monitoring; community service; drug testing; drug and alcohol treatment; and fines and restitution.

Prior to sentencing, a drug and alcohol assessment determines the degree of dependency and the most effective treatment. The restrictive conditions of supervision must be consistent with that evaluation, regardless of standard sentencing guidelines.

Participating counties regularly assess the local impact of Intermediate Punishment programs. Specifically, the evaluation documents the extent to which the programs divert offenders from incarceration and from re-involvement with drugs and related criminal activity. All participating counties have approved Intermediate Punishment Treatment plans that comply with PA Commission on Sentencing and PCCD regulations. 

Related Laws and Regulations

42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 98 (relating to County Intermediate Punishment)

37 Pa. Code §§451.111-451.124