Helen W. Gunnarsson, Illinois Bar Journal
"The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world," said the Pew Center on the States, in a report released February 28. . . Even more disturbing than these numbers is the report's conclusion: all that money, and all of those nonproductive person-hours in jail cells, are doing nothing to reduce the crime rate. Instead, the authors say, throwing people in jail is simply "saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime."
Given this dismal conclusion, interest in alternatives to traditional prosecutions and incarceration is understandably increasing. The Pew Center report cites diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug addictions or mental illnesses, also known as specialty courts, therapeutic courts, or problem-solving courts, as among the promising alternatives to jail time for Treating the underlying cause. . .
in 1993, [Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation] said, a community court was created in Manhattan to address quality of life crimes such as prostitution, drug possession, and vandalism. Instead of jailing nonviolent offenders, the court worked with community organizations to require restitution of the offenders.
Simultaneously, Berman said, the court used its resources to link the offenders with services such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, job training, and counseling in the hopes that in addressing offenders' underlying problems, they would curb recidivism. Statistics showed that these problem-solving courts were highly successful in achieving compliance with their orders, improving local perceptions of the justice system, and reducing recidivism, Berman said.
Today, there are thousands of problem-solving courts in the country. Most, if not all, are part of state criminal court systems, including community courts, drug courts, mental health courts, and domestic violence courts. . .
The Illinois Association for Drug Court Professionals lists 26 counties in Illinois with drug courts. Cook County has multiple sites with drug courts. . . Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons reports that he is participating in the planning stages for a mental health court in his county, which also boasts a domestic violence court. And Tazewell County began a pretrial diversion program through its state's attorney's office in 1974, long before the term "therapeutic jurisprudence" was coined. . .
Lake County's drug court and one-year-old mental health court, officially known as Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring court, provide a good illustration of how specialty courts work. . .
Team members meet every week to review the files of the TIM or drug court subjects, and all share information and ideas to craft appropriate, individualized treatment plans for each subject. Additionally, participants receive the benefit of services from outside professionals who may include the county jail doctor, a private therapist or counselor, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a job placement counselor, and/or a linkage worker who helps subjects find and participate in other community programs to meet their needs. . .
Offenders must . . . be amenable to treatment in order to be accepted into TIM or drug court. "Someone who denies a need for treatment, says she won't take her meds, or doesn't want to be labeled" won't want to be in TIM court - nor would she be accepted into the program, says Bishop. "Acceptance of responsibility is an element of participation in the program. Denial won't work.". . .
TIM or drug court subjects spend far more time in court than do offenders in traditional criminal courts. Initially, they're required to appear every week in court. As they show that they can comply with the specialty court team's requirements, the time between court appearances lengthens, first to every other week, then once a month. . .
Participants who violate the specialty court's orders or restrictions suffer consequences that are agreed on by the court team. Says Fabbri, "Violations are usually addressed incrementally." Someone may spend a weekend in jail, for example, he says. "Consequences will be a lot swifter and more severe than regular probation violations. These people are on our radar screen more and see the judge more.". . .
Mark Kammerer, a psychotherapist by training who's director of treatment programs for the Narcotics Prosecutions Bureau of the Cook County State's Attorney, confirms . . . hopes for specialty court graduates. In a memo . . . Kammerer cites encouraging statistics for Cook County's drug court graduates.
Kammerer first compared the criminal activity of the 443 drug court graduates . . . in the year prior to entering drug court to the year following graduation and found that felony arrests decreased by 92 percent, total arrests decreased by 83 percent, and 87 percent had no felony arrests at all. Further, felony convictions decreased by 86 percent, total convictions decreased by 80 percent, and 91 percent had no felony convictions at all. 91 percent of the graduates had no drug crime convictions and 93 percent had no felony drug crime convictions. . .
Kammerer comments on a similarity between the drug and mental health court populations: "If these people could have gotten their problems under control - could have broken the vicious cycle - by themselves, they would have by now. With the support and coercion of the court, people who couldn't do it on their own can do it." Specialty courts, he says, "are addressing specific issues that the criminal justice system has not been able to address."