In 1989, Florida started the national problem-solving court movement by creating the first drug court in the United States in Miami-Dade County. Other types of problem-solving courts subsequently followed, using the drug model, and were implemented to assist individuals with a range of problems such as drug addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, and homelessness. Problem-solving courts involve a team of justice system stakeholders including judges, case managers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment and rehabilitation professionals, law enforcement and corrections personnel, who work in a non-adversarial manner to link the participant to treatment and closely monitor the participants' compliance. Problem-solving courts seek to promote outcomes that will benefit not only the offender but the victim and society as well. There are more than 3,700 problem-solving courts in the United States.
There are over 200 problem-solving courts in Florida including, but not limited to, 94 drug courts, 24 veterans courts, and 28 mental health courts.
In the years since Florida pioneered the drug court concept, numerous studies have confirmed that drug courts significantly reduce crime, provide better treatment outcomes, and produce better cost benefits than other criminal justice strategies.
The Florida Legislature has a long history of proactively addressing drug-related crime. In 1993, the Legislature provided for pretrial substance abuse education and treatment intervention programs for eligible nonviolent felony offenders.1 These pretrial intervention programs are the precursors to the many forms of drug courts that exist today in Florida. In 2001, the Legislature stated its intent that drug courts be implemented “in each judicial circuit in an effort to reduce crime and recidivism, abuse and neglect cases, and family dysfunction by breaking the cycle of addiction which is the most predominant cause of cases entering the justice system. The Legislature recognizes that the integration of judicial supervision, treatment, accountability, and sanctions greatly increases the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment.”2
The drug court program team within the Office of the State Courts Administrator's, Office of Court Improvement was created to foster the development and expansion of the successful drug court concept throughout Florida. By identifying funding sources, developing training materials, providing technical assistance, creating an information exchange, and working with the legislature, the drug court team helped make the Legislatures intent to have drug courts in every judicial circuit a reality. As of May 2016, Florida has 94 drug courts operating in the felony, misdemeanor, juvenile delinquency, and family dependency divisions of the court.
In 2009, the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) released a study on adult post-adjudicatory drug courts in Florida which showed that individuals who successfully completed post-adjudicatory drug courts were 80% less likely to go to prison than the comparison group. The study also reported to the Legislature that drug courts could save Florida more money by targeting nonviolent, prison-bound offenders. The Florida Legislature appropriated Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant stimulus funds to expand adult post-adjudicatory drug courts.
Mental Health Courts
The origin of mental health courts stemmed from situations similar to those preceding the development of drug courts – repeat offenders in need of treatment services. With available community resources dwindling for people with serious mental illness (SMI), the courts were seeing more repeat offenders with untreated mental illness. Florida’s jails and prisons are not designed, equipped, or funded to deal with SMI, so the use of the drug court model/problem-solving court model was a logical response.
As of May 2016, Florida has 28 mental health courts in operating in 16 circuits. Like drug courts, mental health courts hold offenders accountable while linking them to the treatment services they need to address their mental illness. Monitoring and treating offenders with SMI in a mental health court is more effective, efficient, and less expensive than the remedies available through traditional justice system approaches.
Veterans courts are designed to assist justice-involved defendants with the complex treatment needs associated with substance abuse, mental health, and other issues unique to the traumatic experience of war. Some veterans returning home from war find it difficult to integrate back into the community. Veterans with untreated substance abuse or mental health illnesses, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), may find it even harder to return home which can sometimes lead to criminal activity. Veterans courts involve cooperation and collaboration with traditional partners found in drug courts, such as the judge, state attorney, public defender, case manager, treatment provider, probation, and law enforcement. Added to this interdisciplinary team are representatives of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefit Administration- as well as State Departments of Veterans Affairs, Vet Centers, Veterans Service Organizations, Department of Labor, volunteer veteran mentors, and other veterans support groups. As of May 2016 Florida has 24 veterans courts in operation, four of which are operating as part of a drug court and/or mental health court.
Florida Drug Courts and Other Problem-Solving Courts Quick Facts
- As of May 2016, Florida has 94 drug courts in operation, including 45 adult felony, 7 adult misdemeanor, 23 juvenile, 15 family dependency, and 4 DUI courts.
- There were over 7,300 admissions into Florida’s drug courts in 2015.
- In 2015, there were 205 children reunited with their parents in Florida due to dependency drug courts.
- In 2015, there were 112 drug-free babies born to female participants while in drug court.
1 Section 948.08(6), Florida Statutes (1993).
2 Section 397.334, Florida Statutes (2001).
To obtain contact information for each problem-solving court, click here.