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New Book Examines Ethics and Logistics of Problem-Solving Courts

Coauthors - Problem-Solving Courts and the Criminal Justice System


October 2, 2019

A new book based in research by Drexel University’s Department of Psychology is the first to provide a comprehensive look at problem-solving courts — judicial courts that seek to address the behavioral health needs that underpin criminal behavior.

Problem-Solving Courts and the Criminal Justice System,” published by Oxford University Press, combines the expertise of coauthors David DeMatteo, JD, PhD, associate professor of psychology and of law, Kirk Heilbrun, PhD, professor of psychology — both of whom are authorities on forensic mental health assessment — Alice Thornewill, JD, a student in Drexel’s JD-PhD in Law and Clinical Psychology program, and Shelby Arnold, PhD clinical psychology ’19.

The book provides an ethical and legal foundation for understanding problem-solving courts, which employ a team-based approach with input from behavioral health professionals, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation and parole officers.

“Problem-solving courts represent a paradigm shift in how the criminal justice system handles offenders with behavioral health disorders, including drug dependence and mental health problems,” says DeMatteo. “Rather than simply punishing offenders with special needs, which has failed to produce meaningful reductions in criminal recidivism and led to a costly cycle of arrest, conviction, incarceration, release, and re-arrest, problem-solving courts combine behavioral modification strategies, interventions that target specific risk factors, and judicial oversight to hold offenders accountable while simultaneously protecting the public.”

Problem-solving courts have proliferated in recent years, part of an increasing emphasis on rehabilitative justice in the U.S. judicial system. These include drug courts, mental health courts and veterans courts, among many others.

The text provides an overview of challenges and opportunities in this landscape, while also offering guidance for policymakers, administrators, attorneys and others involved in the implementation of the courts. It also touches on the methodological challenges that these courts pose for researchers.

“Conducting research with criminal justice populations is challenging for a variety of ethical and logistical reasons,” DeMatteo says, “but it’s essential that we conduct high-quality research on problem-solving courts so that their performance can be fairly assessed by researchers, consumers and policymakers.”

Concluding with a discussion of future possibilities in problem-solving courts, the book provides a roadmap that the researchers hope will support the increased efficacy of the courts’ rehabilitative justice.

“All indicators suggest that problem-solving courts will continue to proliferate, and we hope that our book provides all stakeholders — courts, mental health professionals, researchers and policymakers — with the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on these courts,” DeMatteo says.

“Problem-Solving Courts and the Criminal Justice System” is available online at Oxford University Press.