A Problem Solving Justice

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There is a need to safeguard the safety and security of all residents. A country's judicial system plays a part in ensuring that the accused individual is brought to justice. However, some people are mentally ill and end themselves in prison after getting into trouble with the law. Problem Solving Justice seeks to reduce jail overcrowding while also ensuring that people live in harmony. Therapeutic justice and collaborative reform projects are used to guarantee that mentally ill people, among others, follow the law. Among the actions and activities implemented is the inclusion of the community in the rehabilitation process.

  Key worlds: Problem-solving justice, mentally ill, Therapeutic justice, community

Problem Solving Justice

The legal system of a country establishes mechanisms of dealing with criminal and civil matters that affects the citizens. The criminal system does not discriminate the offenders based on mental health, status or age. Adults and juveniles who are on the wrong side of the law are subjected to the same law. There has been an outcry about the increased number of people with mental illness in the United States. According to a research conducted by Rise, Tony, Fred and Michael (2017), there was a gasp among elected official over a report released citing Los Angeles County Jail to have accommodated more people with mental illness than any single mental health facility in the U.S. The future of Problem Solving Justice Strategies from a behavioral health perspective is bright. There is an improvement on how the people who have the mental disorder are handled in the United States legal systems. This is evidenced by the therapeutic and collaborative initiatives undertaken by various mental health policy centers.

Therapeutic Justice

The introduction of Therapeutic Justice is intended to relieve prison crush. The therapeutic Justice is new mental health approach to law. The traditional criminal justice system is faulted for looking backward to find fault and assess blame aiming at meting out punishment with little or no thoughts about the future consequences which are brought by the imposition of a sanction on the society or accused person. The system does not promote effective assessment of treatment of needs for an individual with mental problems and disorders. The Therapeutic jurisprudence focuses on the impact of law on the emotional and psychological health of parties with an objective of bringing sensitivity into law practice and promotion of awareness of mental and emotional issues affecting them. The victims suffer from stress, lack of confidence and trust.

The courts are actively involved in deciding the matters affecting mentally ill people who are brought before it (Walker, Pann, Shapiro and Van Hasselt, 2016). The decisions are made putting into consideration the future impact on individual, relationships and the community. There have been programs developed by the law enforcement agencies away from criminal justice system focusing on treatment options available in the community. The goal of the programs is to ensure that the community is safe and that the mentally ill offender is prevented from entering a recurring cycle of committing crimes.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), the term mental illness refers to syndromes characterized by clinical disturbances in individual's recognition, emotion regulation or behavior that reflects dysfunction in the psychological or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. This definition excludes people with con-curing substance use disorder and those suffering from severe mental illness. People with mental illness are diagnosed with the mental or emotional disorder that is chronic or long-lasting that leads to a significant social and occupational areas of functioning. Serious mental illness may encompass schizophrenia, severe forms of major depression, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Problem-solving justice attempts to replace traditional law enforcement's focus on responding to specific offenses focusing on identification and addressing patterns of crime and ameliorate the underlying condition fueling crime through engagement of the member of the community. This approach emphasis on crime prevention and problem-solving in the community. Problem-solving justice acknowledges that there is need to reduce recidivism and improve public confidence; therefore, there has been involvement of judges, prosecutors and probation officers in reaching this end. It is out of this idea that the mental health courts were established.

Cause Problems, Disparities, and Initiative Goals And Objectives

According to the paper by Linda, Phil, John, and Sheila (2011), the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency was established in 1978 to serve as the justice planning and policy making agency of the commonwealth. Its objectives are to ensure that commonwealth's communities are safe as well as reduce the impact of crime on victims. The Commission is responsible for determining the needs of the criminal and juvenile systems. The authors point out that there is a committee mandated to deal with mental health and justice. It is further denoted out that there are various Problem Solving Courts that includes Drug Court and Mental Health Court among other courts. The papers state that Allegheny County Mental health & Veterans Court is established to foster collaboration, communication, and functioning between the criminal court division and the behavioral health system. It is concerned with ensuring that member of the public are safe as well as provide community-based treatment options for the offender with mental disabilities.

Active community supervision and treatment of people with mental disabilities involves both the court division and behavioral health system by having an established mental health community that is based on individualized service plan to satisfy mental health mandates of the accused. The commission is also focused on lowering the rate of recidivism rates of the offender with mental disabilities and quality of life through treatment compliance by use of community-based mental health service. The study observed that Allegheny County Mental health Court managed to lower recidivism by 14% in the year 2011. The authors found out that the success was associated with the advancement of the program that was appropriate for peer training and guiding.

The researchers observed that in the year 2002 over seventy-six thousand people received mental health service in Philadelphia. They noted out that about 17% of the population of Philadelphia has a dual mental health and intellectual disabilities. The author points a 2007 study conducted on 240 inmates who were housed in the jail's most intensive mental health units, and the study found out that there was a high demand for behavioral health treatment of inmates. It has pointed out by these researchers that there has been an increase in Behavioral Health caseload to 27.6 % in 2012 as compared to 7.6 % in 2011. There was also an increase of people who have schizophrenia, bi-polar and major depression disorder to 17.5 % in 2012 from 2.5% in 2011. It was also observed that there were approximately 80% of inmates that were listed on the mental health caseload with a co-occurring diagnosis. To reduce recidivism by defendants the Commission proposed a set of goals to be met. It pointed out that there is a need to facilitate the re-entry of offenders with mental illness from incarceration into supervised community treatment settings.

Collaborative Reform Initiative

A report released by the Human Rights Watch in 2006, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S prisons and jails had quadrupled over a period of six years. The report indicates that in the year 1998 there was an estimated 283,000 prisoners who were suffering from mental health problems. The number stood at 1.25 million in the year 2006, whereby women account for a higher number of inmates who are mentally ill. The number of the mentally ill prisoner is on the increase while prisons remain dangerously and a damaging place for them. The report points out that prisons are woefully ill-equipped and that prisoners with mental health problems face a shortage of qualified staff. These prisoners find it difficult to adhere to prison rules and cope with the stress of confinement. The prison officials mistreat the mentally ill offenders due to their symptoms of illness such as being noisy, self-mutilating and attempts of suicide. The prison system ends up housing the prisoners to harsh conditions including isolation due to lack of staff who are committed to intervening (O'Brien, 2014). The offenders engage in some behaviors that are motivated by delusions and hallucinations.

The initiative involves reaching out to potential partners beyond the premises of the court. There is a need for an improved inter-agency communication to encourage a high trust between the citizens and the government. Problem-solving justice system strives to bring new players on board and integrate services into the standard operating procedures of the judicial system. Collaboration is achieved by allocating services and agencies in one place and demand for quick court processes and efficiently. Collaborative reform initiative model of technical assistance is concerned with engaging law enforcement agencies on issues such as the use of force, community trust, and policy legitimacy. The collaborative reform initiative includes community-based models that are trauma-informed, public health and prevention focused. The action may also include jail or court therapeutic diversion strategies and problem-solving court. It is important to balance the rights of the victim, rehabilitation, public safety and treatment of the offenders who have mental disorder instead of punishing them.

The underlying principles of problem-solving justice that must be met to ensure that the mentally ill offenders are fairly handled in the legal system includes enhanced information about the defendant, victims, and community to improve the decision-making process (Furedi, 2014). Individualized justice seeks to help the justice system make more nuanced decisions in individual cases. The approach is that of moving from standardized and mechanistic focused cases processing to an emphasis on solving public safety problems and transforming the behavior of the offender.

Community Engagement

The citizens are actively engaged in the identification, prioritizing and solving of local problems. By doing this, there is an improvement in public trust in justice. Involving the members of the community through discussions and meeting as well as informing them about the progress of performance of the concerned agencies make them feel secure and safe. Problem-solving justice is focused on fostering law-abiding behavior and makes the member of community volunteer themselves and participate in community impact panel in which they air their views on how the mentally ill offenders affect the quality of life of the neighborhood and how to deal with it. Collaborating with potential partners who are focused on improving interagency communication as well as encourage greater trust between the citizens, law enforcement officers and the government in fostering new responses to the problem (Callahan, Steadman, Tillman & Vesselinov, 2013). The community ensures that the agencies dealing with mentally ill offenders are accountable for their actions. There is a need to develop better approaches to incompetent inpatient defendants who become stuck between the public safety concerns of the prosecution and mental health treatment needs. The time an individual can be held in the hospital before standing trial is also of concern due to unreasonableness or fairness in the process. The community should be provided with regular reports on the work and progress of mentally ill offenders who are integrated into the community.

Mental Health Courts

According to Judge Lerner-Wren (2010), mental health problems and disorders are common in the US and internationally. The Judge citing the 2006 statics reported by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice statistics pointed out that more than half of all inmates are affected by mental health problems and disorder. He further said that mental illness is mainly associated with violence and past criminal activities. The number of the inmate is increased by the stigma surrounding mental illness, unfair treatment and financial constraints that prevent them from accessing benefits of health insurers. The untreated mental illness results in the criminalization of the mentally ill due to homelessness and lack of the community to support them integrate into the society. This is because a lot of time is spent in jails and prison, leaving little or no time spent in the community. Double stigmatization of the mentally ill occurs since they are suffering mentally and being labeled offenders (Redlich, & Han, 2014). The society leave them to suffer without care, these offenders have poor physical health and in most instances suffer from chronic illness with acute symptoms.


A specially trained law enforcement officer relies heavily on effective interactions between police and community mental health services. The police officers have the discretion to decide whether to arrest a suspect. Pre-booking diversion programs are available in the United States in Birmingham and Alabama. The officers trained to handle mental health crisis call the police as the first line of response.


Many diversion efforts can take place upon arrest or at various points during criminal justice process. It can be held during discharge and release from the custody. The program takes place at the court setting or the jail, the specialized officers involved in the process include the parole or probation officers, the judges, and mental health expert. The program provides the magistrate with mental health support and helps and identification as well as screening individuals with potential mental problems (Munetz, Ritter, Teller & Bonfine, 2014). In the United States, the Mental Health Courts have come out strongly to focus on felons as well as other offenders.

Reentry and Probation

There are collaborative programs designated to support successful reentry of current jail inmates into the community. Development of alternatives to incarcerations of the offenders who are suffering from the mental illness as well as provision of medication is a program aimed at ensuring that the criminals are integrated into the society (Berman and Feinblatt, 2015). The qualifying inmates with few months of in-jail programming and services are identified and readied for release. They are offered with after jail support service in the community. The reentry program aims at identifying and reducing the risk of recidivism, coordinates pre and post-service provision as well as increasing compliance with post-release orders


The objective of improving criminal justice programs and services is to be achieved through improving the capacity and quality of personnel. The system should improve the criminal justice policy, program, and operational decision-making. The criminal justice system goals of protecting the integrity, controlling crime as well as enhance the quality of justice are enhanced by involving the member of the society. It should also be increased through encouraging the community to support criminal justice system

The program of ensuring the safety of the community and the offenders, there must be involvement of the community in decision-making. Integrating the offenders in the society should take place after training and assessing them to ensure that they are fit to be released to the community. The court, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officers should consider the mental capacity of an accused person during the arrest, prosecution and legal proceedings. The goal is to ensure that there is the safety of the offenders and efficient delivery of justice.

The problem-solving justice plan should be implemented immediately. Involving the community in decision making through holding meetings and public forum is intended to enhance the relationship. The police should be trained and receive the refresher course on how to deal with the mentally ill people who are found on the wrong side of the law. The prosecution, as well as the parole officers, should be subjected to training. The jails and prisons should keep records of the number of mentally ill inmates they handle. The files of the offenders should indicate the way they are treated by the jail officers including the number of hours they are allowed to the community. The person to be involved in the rehabilitation process of the offenders includes friends and relative of the defendant. Qualified health workers should be required to ensure that they offer guidance and counseling on integrating the members to the society.

The mentally ill people from poor background are unable to afford medical care, and they cannot get adequate food and other necessities. They, therefore, engage in crime to enable them to survive, and the community should identify these people and present them with the rehabilitation program. Pre-booking diversion should involve a specially trained law enforcement officer who relies on the active interaction between the police and community mental health services. The post-booking diversion should take place at courts and jails; it follows the discharge of a person. Post-booking diversion should involve parole and probation officers or units. The mental health court is a specialized court, the re-entry and probation model to be adopted of a person who has a mental illness is involving the member of the society in transforming the person to fit in the society.

Mentally ill people suffer from prejudice both at home and jail. Exclusion and incarceration at home occur due to their nature which includes shouting and hallucinations. Lack of proper medication causes the victims to exhibit those behaviors. The victim is traumatized by being referred to as offenders and the form of discrimination meted on them by the community. The prison officers exclude and punish these offenders when they start shouting or hallucinating. Mentally ill people should undergo medical treatment and be handled properly while in jail and at home. Training of prison staff on how to relate with these offenders and rehabilitation process goes a long way in transforming them.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Berman, G., & Feinblatt, J. (2015). Good courts: The case for problem-solving justice (Vol. 8). Quid Pro Books.

Callahan, L., Steadman, H. J., Tillman, S., & Vesselinov, R. (2013). A multi-site study of the use of sanctions and incentives in mental health courts. Law and Human Behavior, 37(1), 1.

Furedi, F. (2014). Is it Justice? Therapeutic History and the Politics of Recognition. In De-Medicalizing Misery II (pp. 1-18). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Ginger Lerner WrenMental Health Courts: Serving Justice and Promoting Recovery, 19 Annals Health L. 577 (2010). Available at: http://lawecommons.luc.edu/annals/vol19/iss3/7

Linda, R., Phil, D., John, Z and Sheila S. (2011), Building and Implementing Research Partnerships – CSG Justice Center. (2017). Retrieved 14 April 2017, from https://csgjusticecenter.org/mental-health/webinars/building-and-implementing-research-partnerships/

Munetz, M. R., Ritter, C., Teller, J. L., & Bonfine, N. (2014). Mental health court and assisted outpatient treatment: Perceived coercion, procedural justice, and program impact. Psychiatric Services, 65(3), 352-358.

O'Brien, M. T. (2014). Connecting Law Student Wellbeing to Social Justice, Problem-Solving and Human Emotions. QUT L. Rev., 14, 52.

Redlich, A. D., & Han, W. (2014). Examining the links between therapeutic jurisprudence and mental health court completion. Law and Human Behavior, 38(2), 109.

Risë H., Tony f., Fred. O., and Michael, T. (2017) Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask – CSG Justice Center. (2017). Csgjusticecenter.org. Retrieved 14 April 2017, from https://csgjusticecenter.org/mental-health/publications/reducing-the-number-of-people-with-mental-illnesses-in-jail-six-questions-county-leaders-need-to-ask/

U.S. Dep't Of Justice, Office Of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mental Health Problems of Prison And Jail Inmates 1 (2006). Retrieved 14 April 2017, from https://law.und.edu/_files/docs/ndlr/pdf/issues/83/1/83ndlr225.pdf

Walker, L. E., Pann, J. M., Shapiro, D. L., & Van Hasselt, V. B. (2016). Problem-Solving Courts. In Best Practices for the Mentally Ill in the Criminal Justice System (pp. 19-49). Springer International Publishing.

April 19, 2023

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