Problem-Solving Courts:
Show Us the Money

Problem-Solving 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.”

–  National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP)1

The single most successful intervention. How is it possible that 65% of U.S. inmates have a substance abuse disorder when we have the single most successful intervention at our fingertips?

Not surprisingly, it’s complicated. And it’s not really at our fingertips. Treatment or problem-solving courts take funding, interagency coordination, legislative support … and did we mention funding?

Problem-solving courts are designed to address the underlying cause of the crime (e.g., a substance abuse) rather than simply punish a person for the crime itself. They’re rehabilitative. They reduce recidivism. And when they’re operating effectively, they’re a coordinated effort involving the judge, district attorney, defense attorney, treatment provider, supervision professional, and often a program coordinator.

Even if you’re not in a jurisdiction that has problem-solving courts, you know that any highly coordinated supervision and treatment plan with judicial checkpoints and oversight can’t be executed successfully without funding.

In Michigan this year, mental health courts, drug treatment courts, and veteran treatment courts were given a combined total of $17.3M in grant money from the State Court Administrative Office.2 Why? Because it works. Graduates of Michigan mental health courts are half as likely to commit another crime within three years of admission, and in the same three-year span following admission, graduates of drug court programs are two times less likely to be convicted of a new offense.

Grant money can be a good way to help set up or sustain problem-solving courts, but as Judge Christine Carpenter, a pioneer of the problem-solving court model, warns, grant money is highly competitive and won’t last forever.

“Grants have been a way that many, many courts have been able to get established through the use of a two-year, three-year grant. But you’ve got to have a sustainability plan beyond the grant. You can’t just live on grants forever,” Judge Carpenter said.

In New Mexico, legislators created a grant program funded by liquor excise tax revenues, and this funding can go to municipalities or counties for substance abuse treatment programs including problem-solving courts.3 Not only is this funding solution creative, it’s an investment that pays off. The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee found that their adult drug courts and mental health courts showed a cost-benefit of $3 to $4 for every dollar invested.4

Similarly, Judge Carpenter says Kansas City, Missouri, set up a tax early on that is designed specifically to fight drug-related crime and violence. The Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax (COMBAT) sales tax in Jackson County now generates over $19M annually.5

Funding is the biggest hurdle for most states and municipalities interested in creating or continuing to support their problem-solving courts, but unfortunately, it’s rarely the only challenge. Securing adequate treatment resources and gaining buy-in and collaboration from disparate parties can be equally daunting. 

Whether you’re working on bringing problem-solving courts to your jurisdiction or working to scale what you’re doing, we can help. We not only provide the technology solutions that keep your courts and interagency collaboration running smoothly, we also have decades of experience working through a variety of challenges, including funding. How can we help? Give us a call today.

 Want to hear more insight from Judge Christine Carpenter? Listen to an exclusive interview on Scaling Justice.


2 The Oakland Press, 2019
3 New Mexico HB 215
4 New Mexico Problem-Solving Courts
5 Jackson County COMBAT