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Problem-solving courts planned for England and Wales

25th May 2016

Ministers have approved problem-solving courts in which judges review the progress of convicted offenders after being sentenced with the aim of keeping them out of prison.

Such courts, which often specialise in handling drug or alcohol addiction, domestic abuse and housing cases, involve imposing non-custodial punishments. Those convicted must appear regularly before the judge to be assessed.

The majority of defendants receive short-term social or community service sanctions, typically five days or less in length. The aim is to identify and resolve problems in the community and reduce the number of conventional jail sentences handed down.

A pilot programme involving a number of courts is already under development, and will be formally launched later this year. A joint working group involving judges and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials endorsed the scheme and is examining how to expand it.

The US tribunals focus on identifying and dealing with each offender’s underlying problems and preventing their re-offending. If they fail to engage with rehabilitiation efforts, they can be sent to prison.

Addressing a meeting in the Royal Courts of Justice in London earlier this week, the most senior judge in New York’s state courts, Judge Lippman, said that “It is up to those who care about the administration of justice to think out of the box to make it happen – not to be soft on crime or tough on crime but rather to be smart on crime.”

“We are grappling with the issues of over-incarceration in New York and around [the US],” he noted, before adding that imprisonment for six months, he added, increased the chance of reoffending. “Sending people to jail may actually harm public safety.”

The initiative will also draw on the experience of the few specialist courts already running in England and Wales such as the family, drug and alcohol courts. Other specialist courts have failed because of a lack of official support.