FAQ Treatment Court 

What are treatment courts?

Treatment courts are the single most successful intervention in our nation’s history for leading people living with substance use and mental health disorders out of the justice system and into lives of recovery and stability. Instead of viewing addition as a moral failing, they see it as a disease. Instead of punishment, they offer treatment. Instead of indifference, they show compassion.

In Pennsylvania, these are known as Problem-solving Courts. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 42 Pa.C.S.A. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure § 916. Problem-solving Courts, (a) Establishment.–The court of common pleas of a judicial district and the Municipal Court of Philadelphia may establish, from available funds, one or more problem-solving courts which have specialized jurisdiction, including, but not limited to, drug courts, mental health courts and driving under the influence courts, whereby defendants are admitted to a court-supervised individualized treatment program.  The court may adopt local rules for the administration of problem-solving courts and their related treatment services.  The local rules may not be inconsistent with this section or any rules established by the Supreme Court.

Currently in Pennsylvania types of treatment courts in operation are: Adult Drug Courts, Adult DUI Courts, Adult Hybrid Drug and DUI Courts, Adult Mental Health Courts, Veterans Courts, Adult Co-Occurring (Drug and Mental Health) Courts, Juvenile Drug Courts, Juvenile Mental Health Courts, Family Drug Courts, Prostitution Courts and a Sexual Offender Court.

When did treatment courts begin?

Miami –Dade County in Florida started the first treatment court in 1989 in response to the increasing numbers of drug-addicted offenders entering the criminal justice system. As drug court have expanded across the United States and other countries, the concept of a drug court was expanded to address both adult and juvenile offenders, high risk repeat DUI offenders, the chronically mentally ill, veterans and other struggling populations of offenders. In 1997 Philadelphia Adult Drug Court became the first treatment court in Pennsylvania. As of May 1, 2020, Pennsylvania has 126 active treatment courts operating in the commonwealth.

Why are treatment courts needed?

According to the US Department of Justice statistics, 64% of local jail inmates present symptoms of a serious mental illness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates 65% of the US prison population are diagnosed with Substance Abuse Disorder. Further data shows that national recidivism rate for drug offenses is nearly 67%. Up to 80% of child abuse and neglect cases and nearly 50% of domestic violence cases are substance-abuse related. Veterans make up 7% of the US population but 22% of suicide deaths per year. Further 20% of veterans have been diagnosed with PTSC compared to only 8% of non-veterans.

Treatment courts represent the combined efforts of justice and treatment professionals to actively intervene and break the cycle of substance abuse, addiction, mental illness, crime, delinquency and child maltreatment. In this blending of justice, treatment and social service systems, the participant undergoes an intensive regimen of substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, case management, drug testing, supervision and monitoring, immediate incentives and sanctions while reporting to regularly scheduled status hearings before a judge with expertise in the treatment court model. In addition, treatment courts increase the probably of participants’ success by providing ancillary services such as medical care, family therapy, housing assistance and job skills training.

Are all treatment courts the same?

All treatment courts are to be following “The 10 Key Components” as well as the national “Best Practice Standards of Adult Drug Courts”. Even though these best practice standards are for adult drug courts, research by Shannon Carey, Ph.D. found that until the research is available for the specific other types of treatment courts, it seems these standards work across the other treatment court types.

That being said, while each treatment court should maintain fidelity to the treatment court model, the design and structure of each actual program is developed at the local level to reflect the unique strengths, circumstances, and capacities of each county. Many sectors of the local community are involved in the planning and implementation of a treatment court, including criminal justice, treatment, law enforcement, educational and community organizations etc.

While the drug court mainly addresses addiction and criminal behaviors, other variants of treatment courts address the underlying issues leading to the participant’s involvement in the criminal justice system. For example, Mental Health Courts focus on mental health and criminal behaviors while a juvenile drug court would focus on addiction and delinquency issues and DUI courts get to the root of repeat drug driving. Family drug court focus on substance abuse treatment and the reunification of the family where Veterans Courts focus on the specific issues facing the veteran leading to the involvement in the criminal justice system.

Who is eligible for a treatment court?

Generally speaking, eligibility for a treatment court revolves around three main criteria. 1) Demographic requirements (county resident, appropriate age), 2) criminal case requirements (criminal history, current charges) and 3) clinical requirements (does the application need treatment of some sort).

Every treatment court in Pennsylvania has its own unique eligibility requirements. For specific information, please contact the individual county.

Do Treatment Courts work?

After a decade of research, scientists at the esteemed Treatment Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that, “To put it bluntly, we know that drug courts outperform virtually all other strategies that have been used with drug-involved offenders.”

Treatment courts save lives every single day. They employ a holistic approach that goes beyond simply treating substance use disorders. They improve education, employment, housing, and financial stability; promote family reunification; reduce foster care placements; and increase the rate of mothers with substance use disorders delivering fully drug-free babies.

Treatment courts refer more people to treatment than any other intervention in America, and those people are more successful in recover because they remain in treatment long enough to be successful. The average national completion rate for treatment courts is nearly 60%, approximately two-thirds higher than probation and more than twice the rate of probationers with substance use disorders.

Treatment courts uphold the enduring, absolute value of every human person and embody compassion towards the most vulnerable in our justice system. Reducing the stigma of substance use and mental health disorders has never been more important as our nation battles the opioid epidemic.

Not only are treatment courts effective and humane, they save considerable money for taxpayers. Research shows that treatment courts produce benefits of $6208 per participant, returning up to $27 for every $1 invested.

Frequently asked questions