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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

Offenders at Levels 3 and 4 of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines can receive treatment for alcohol and drug issues related to crimes. Sentencing of non-violent offenders; for example, those with DUI-related charges, can involve a mix of incarceration and two or more sanctions that consider both the offender and public safety. This sentencing method is called Intermediate Punishment.

Sanctions can include:

  • House arrest
  • Intensive supervision
  • Electronic monitoring
  • Community service
  • Drug testing
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Fines and restitution

Prior to sentencing, a drug and alcohol assessment determines the degree of dependency and the most effective treatment. The restrictive intermediate punishment must be consistent with that evaluation, regardless of standard sentencing guidelines. Courts can impose full or partial confinement—not to exceed 90 days—without parole, but only when intermediate punishment follows confinement.

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 plans that comply with PCCD regulations.

Related laws and Codes

  • Pennsylvania General Assembly’s County Intermediate Punishment (IP) Act (1990-193)
  • The General Assembly’s 2002 Act 2000-41
  • PCCD regulations (37 Pa. Code §§451.111-451.124)