Problem-Solving Courts (“PSC”) are a unique form of criminal court that focus on treating the underlying illness or disability of their defendant-participants. Any Court that regularly reviews and sentences certain classes of individuals can apply to become a Problem-Solving Court. Becoming a PSC involves compliance requirements that ensure PSC participants will have the best benefits available to them in terms of reduced recidivism, increased drug and alcohol treatment, and additional guidance and oversight by court professionals.
Problem-Solving Courts generally focus on a particular area of need, including drug abuse in both minors and adults, veterans, DUI, and mental illness. The PSC program’s goal is to provide a uniform set of guidelines and standards that a PSC must comply with in order to maintain its certification. PSC applicants must also demonstrate dedication to alternative treatment for the program’s protected groups.
No individual has a legal right to participate in a PSC program, and participation is typically limited to nonviolent offenses. In each instance, participation is initiated based on a voluntary release and consent to participation.
PSC Drug Treatment
Participation in a drug court program is usually completed as an alternative to traditional sentencing. For example, one individual charged with felony possession of heroin would have been facing a minimum of 13 years in prison, followed by likely recidivism. Instead, he was recommended for participation in a specialized drug court program that involved 30 months of intense probation, including drug treatment, frequent check-ins with program officials, regular court appearances and drugs screens, and mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Here is a List of participating drug courts.
PSC Veteran Treatment
PSCs often work with veterans in the criminal justice system who may suffer from some combination of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other psychological disabilities, or substance abuse issues as a result of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. PSCs generally work collaboratively with the Veterans’ Association, the Public Defender’s Office, and the community. By establishing in-depth treatment programs for veterans in the criminal system, these PSCs reduce recidivism, substance abuse, and costs to the particular court system.
Here is a List of participating veterans courts.
PSC Mental Health Treatment
PSC courts specializing in mental health treatment follow a similar trend as other PSC Courts, focusing on treating the underlying cause of the offense, rather than the traditional focus on case processing. Participants may be identified through standard mental health screening or they can opt to voluntarily participate in the treatment program.
Common Questions for attorneys:
How can I help my client by participating in a PSC?
Your clients receive substantially greater assistance by participating in a PSC. Not only are the judges and staff better acquainted with the particular specialty of the PSC (drug abuse, mental illness, veteran status, etc.), but the treatment and sentencing options are designed to promote long term rehabilitation, rather than simply penalizing the offense.
Will a PSC decision still appear on my client’s record?
Yes. In most cases, your client’s record will still show an arrest or conviction even if they participate in a PSC. Your client may, however, receive a lighter sentence if they successfully complete an agreed-upon PSC sentence.
If I appear regularly in a court that is not a PSC, can they become one?
Yes. Any court in Illinois can apply to receive the benefits of being a PSC. A court official would need to complete an Application to Become a PSC and fulfill the requirements. These steps and requirements include:
- Develop a comprehensive planning process plan
- Develop compliant policies and procedures
- Develop a written participant handbook and program requirements
- Define a target population and description (drug, veteran, mental health)
- Establish a compliant plan for data collection and reporting
- Develop a plan for program sustainability and continuity
- Complete and submit an application for certification