Specialty courts, often referred to as “problem-solving courts” or “community courts,” have become more and more prevalent in New York and throughout the nation during recent years. These courts are flexible in structure, and can be created to address many difference kinds of individual and/or community issues. These courts can be designed to address drug use, mental health, prostitution, “quality of life” offenses such as graffiti or trespassing , and more. These courts often incorporate various forms of alternatives to incarceration, such as addiction treatment, mental health treatment, education, community forums, and other forms of support. Some common problem-solving courts are:
1. Youth Courts: These courts often incorporate both family court and criminal court remedies and functions to arrive at appropriate resolutions for young people who find themselves in the criminal justice system.
2. Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) courts: These courts were established based on the concept that family members often find themselves on opposite sides of criminal and family court matters simultaneously and repeatedly, and that it is appropriate to have a single court and a single judge hearing and deciding on all the cases and issues. Cases in the IDV court can be extremely complex, and fraught with personal histories and unique relationship dynamics. By having one judge who is informed and familiar with all of the issues in the particular family situation, criminal and otherwise, the process should be more efficient and the outcomes more appropriate.
3. Drug Treatment Courts: There are often separate drug treatment courts to handle felony and misdemeanor charges, but they will typically operate in a similar fashion. Generally, speaking drug courts operate by allowing non-violent offenders to enter into an agreement with the treatment court whereby the defendant pleas guilty, is subject to many terms and conditions, enters into drug treatment on an in-patient or out-patient basis (whichever is deemed appropriate given the circumstances), continues that treatment for a long period of time (usually between 6 months and 2 years), and is given the opportunity to receive a reduced charge or no criminal conviction at all if he or she successfully completes the treatment program.
4. Mental Health Courts: These courts typically operate in much the same way as drug treatment courts, with the difference that these courts are instead designed to help defendants with mental illness. These courts often have a judge who specializes in handling cases of this kind, highly trained and specialized support staff and resource coordinators, and even prosecutors and defense attorneys who specialize in handling cases involving mental health issues. These courts monitor defendants very closely, and typically collaborate closely with the community, local mental health service providers and social service providers.
This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense or Family Court lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand problem-solving courts in New York State.