Addressing the Solution-Focused Sceptics: Moving Beyond Punitivity in the Sentencing of Drug-Addicted and Mentally Impaired Offenders

28 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016 Last revised: 1 Jun 2016

See all articles by Michelle Edgely

Michelle Edgely

University of New England (Australia) - School of Law

Date Written: April 27, 2016

Abstract

The contextual backdrop of this article is the 2012 closure of solution-focused courts in Queensland and NSW and, more generally, the willingness of governments across Australia to implement policies in the criminal justice sphere without regard to the evidence of efficacy, if any, of those policies. This article uses solution-focused courts as a case study to examine the coherence of those closure decisions. Solution-focused courts present an interesting case study because their successes have confounded so many sceptics. This article first backgrounds the traditional role of the courts in rehabilitating offenders and then briefly outlines the development and operation of solution-focused courts, focusing particularly on drug courts and mental health courts. The article then presents a synopsis of the results of the most rigorous of the recidivism-reduction efficacy and cost-effectiveness studies of the courts. It is argued that there is an abundance of evidence that properly designed solution-focused courts are efficacious and cost-effective, especially in comparison to imprisonment. This article then considers whether a putatively punitive Australian public would be likely to support solution-focused courts for sentencing drug-addicted and mentally impaired offenders. The research into punitive attitudes among Australians in examined and critiqued. It is argued that the research supporting claims that the public is highly punitive is methodologically flawed and based on widespread misconceptions about crime and criminal justice. Another body of research was designed to overcome the limitations of decontextualized top-of-the-head responses to survey questions about sentencing. That research reveals that Australians are capable of more nuanced responses to crime and punishment. It is argued that presented with the relevant facts, many Australians would be likely to support solution-focused courts as an appropriate rehabilitative sentencing option for drug-addicted and mentally impaired offenders.

Keywords: problem-solving courts, solution-focused courts, sentencing, punitivity, drug-addicted offenders, mentally impaired offenders, therapeutic jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Edgely, Michelle, Addressing the Solution-Focused Sceptics: Moving Beyond Punitivity in the Sentencing of Drug-Addicted and Mentally Impaired Offenders (April 27, 2016). University of New South Wales Law Journal, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2771482

Michelle Edgely (Contact Author)

University of New England (Australia) - School of Law ( email )

Australia

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