Imagine your friend, Alex, has bipolar disorder. Alex feels like the medication he has been taking gives him headaches and that getting high on pills works better, and he chooses to stop taking it as a result. Very soon, Alex’s symptoms begin to come back. To you he seems anxious and maybe even impulsive, but maybe that is just the spontaneous Alex you’ve always known. One night, after a lot of push from his friends, he decides to get high and go out with them to blow off some steam from the stressful week he has had. Alex gets into a fight, and is arrested and charged with aggravated assault after the fight ended with the other person going to the hospital.
This is where criminal justice diversion programs, like problem-solving courts, can come into play. Problem-solving courts are becoming more and more prevalent, with almost 4,000 courts  dedicated to deferring specific populations of offenders with mental illness or substance abuse problems, veterans, those with domestic abuse charges, prostitutes, and many more. While there are many types of problem-solving courts, they share one overarching goal, to treat the underlying causes of criminal behavior and foster desistance from crime. Mental illness itself doesn’t cause crime, but untreated symptoms such as anger and impulsivity can exhibit themselves as criminal behavior, resulting in involvement with law enforcement or even conviction and incarceration . The structure of problem-solving courts allow time for defendants to talk directly with their judge on a weekly basis, live in the community, have a job, and receive treatment. (more…)