Applying a therapeutic justice approach, mainstream criminal courts can explore, and respond to, the causes of crime…

One common cause of offending is substance abuse and addiction.   In specialist drug courts there is a clear link between the criminal justice process and treatment.  In mainstream courts there are many points in the system that can be an opportunity to link the person with treatment and support:

  • pre-charge (police referral to treatment)
  • pre-sentence (through supportive bail programs)
  • during the sentencing process (judicial monitoring with treatment)
  •  as part of the sentence itself (a sentence that allows for community based treatment).

Such interventions may not always be appropriate if other considerations come into play such as community protection but for the majority of people in the criminal justice system risks can be managed in community based treatment.

To minimise harm to the community and the person concerned, intervention early in the process is key however intervention can be available at various points.

In this post we have talked about substance abuse but these principles apply to other underlying causes of offending such as mental ill health or financial problems.

A TJ analysis…

Taking a therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) approach we can examine the laws, legal processes and roles of legal actors to identify how TJ friendly or unfriendly they are (learn more about this methodology).   In this context laws, legal processes and roles of legal actors will be more TJ friendly when they allow for people coming before the court to be provided with the opportunity to address their substance abuse.  Some interventions might be able to be achieved within existing laws, for example, by building partnerships between the court and service providers, by using existing legal processes such as adjournments of cases prior to sentencing being finalised or by improving the way that legal actors (lawyers, prosecutors and judges) interact with a person before them.  Other interventions may require a change to the law such as development of a community based sentencing option such as probation.   

In your system…

What would it take for people coming before your court to get the treatment and support they need when they need it?

  • How do the legal actors (lawyers, prosecutors, judges, court staff, support workers) within your court become aware of the underlying issues that may be causing offending?
  • Once these issues become known, how does your system respond to them?
  • What are the points in the system where a person could be linked with treatment and support?   Intervention at all stages is important but keep an eye out for early intervention and diversion opportunities.
  • What services and programs already exist in your community?   Can you map them?
  • What partnerships could be made between your court and those services to link your court with those services?
  • Are there gaps?  If so, what other supports or services that need to be developed and who might you partner with to do this?

Some inspiration…

In this video, the President and President Emeritus of TASC in Chicago, an organisation that provides opportunities for people to address their substance abuse and mental health problems so to avoid chronic involvement in the criminal justice system, talk about their  vision for a criminal justice system that diverts people into treatment and support:

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