48 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2016 Last revised: 10 May 2018
Date Written: October 7, 2016
This article identifies and analyzes a new type of specialized “problem-solving” court: status courts. Status courts are criminal or quasi-criminal courts dedicated to defendants who are members of particular status groups, such as veterans or girls. They differ from other problem-solving courts, such as drug or domestic violence courts, in that nothing about the status court offender or the offense he or she committed presents a systemic “problem” to be “solved.” In fact, status courts aim to honor the offender’s experience and strengthen the offender’s association with the characteristic used to sort him or her into court.
The article positions status courts as a troubling development in the evolution of problem-solving justice, in particular, and criminal justice reform, generally. It reveals that status courts institutionalize the notion that certain offenders, by virtue of their inclusion in a particular status group, deserve better treatment than others. This “moral sorting” provides an expressive release that may, counterintuitively, disincentivize widespread systemic reform.
And yet, while status courts present cause for concern, they also advance a positive, and possibly transformative, notion: that some individuals commit criminal offenses, at least in part, because of the influence of external factors beyond their control. In this way, status courts challenge the retributive notion that criminal offenders are wholly independent, rational actors and counterbalance the othering effect of many current criminal justice practices. As the rise of retributive ideals played a prominent role in ramping up the penal machinery over the past few decades, embracing the more contextual, complicated conceptualization of the criminal offender status courts advance can temper the tendency to overincarcerate.
Keywords: problem solving courts, criminal justice reform, criminal procedure, veteran's courts, girls courts, punishment theory
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