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December 1, 2013
Are problem-solving courts the answer?

Mental Health Courts • Drug Courts • Veterans Courts

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

Drug addicts. Alcoholics. People with serious mental illnesses. Homeless veterans.

They wind up in Florida’s courts and are locked behind bars, not for being a danger to society, but because there is nowhere else for them to go.

The criminal justice system keeps churning them through the process. But many are too dysfunctional to follow the rules, and wind up in the system again and again.

“Their lives have been turned inside out by drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, by poverty, by lack of education, by lack of employment — by all those things that turn us into dysfunctional people,” said Seventh Circuit Judge Joseph Will, who presides over drug court in Volusia County.

“Now we’re dealing with the dysfunctional the second time through on violations of their probation, and the third time through, and the fourth time through. And we’re trying to figure out what to do with these people, because we don’t want to fill our prisons with dysfunctional people.”

Once out of jail or prison, they commit new crimes, often property crimes to support their habits.

“So we are cranking and cranking and cranking. We’ve become so efficient, it’s alarming. Toward what end? Toward an end that tells us that two thirds of the people that we work with come back again, and I don’t think that’s what we were shooting for. That is what gave rise to problem-solving courts.”

Judge Will and Judge Steve Leifman, associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade Court Criminal Division, recently gave presentations at the Legislature about Florida’s problem-solving courts: 52 adult drug courts; 24 juvenile drug courts; 21 family drug courts; four DUI courts; 19 mental health courts; and 14 veterans courts.

[Revised: 04-08-2014]