Michigan Problem Solving Courts Provide an Alternatives to Jail

Problem-solving courts provide an innovative approach when a judge should consider rehabilitation instead of punishment.

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Specialty Courts Can Provide Alternatives to Jail

Society is faced with many problems that, left unresolved, can create even more significant problems and cause substantial damage to communities and people who live there. These problems range from substance abuse, mental health problems, domestic violence, gambling, and homelessness. The criminal courts in Michigan are overworked, and it has become increasingly apparent that a new way of thinking is needed. The old ways were not cost or time-effective and were not sufficiently dealing with an offender’s real issues to minimize the chance of repeat offenses. To reduce overcrowding and unnecessarily jailing non-violent offenders, courts are increasingly turning to court programs as alternatives to jail.

The most common of the Problem-Solving Courts is the Drug Court (also known as a Sobriety Court), and statistics show that after two years, 7.19% of those who participated in a Drug Court Program were repeat offenders, compared to 14.67% who did not. After 4 years, 15.61% of those who participated in a Drug Court Program were repeat offenders instead of 22.45% who did not. These statistics are from the Michigan State Court Administrator’s Office. Problem-solving courts are the future trend, and Michigan is at the cutting edge of the movement. Although courts may not be inclined to offer these programs as an alternative to jail, great defense lawyers know how to advocate for therapeutic alternatives to incarceration credibly.

Types of Specialty or Problem-Solving Courts

There are several court programs used as alternatives to jail and prison sentences. Attorneys with extensive criminal defense experience will know the following programs and any new alternatives to jail:

The collaboration of attorneys, judges, and court programs is vital in helping the defendant.

Problem-solving courts are innovative programs designed to address an offender’s underlying problem. According to the Center for Court Innovation, six principles are required for problem-solving courts to be effective. There must be better information available to the staff through training and comprehensive defendant information for justice officials. Community engagement with the public will encourage the cooperation of witnesses, jurors, and community watch groups, fostering trust. Collaboration between legal officials, judges, prosecutors, attorneys, probation officers, social service providers, victim groups, and schools will keep everyone focused on the goal. Individualized Justice links offenders to the services they need and provides services for victims to aid in their recovery. Offenders must be held accountable for compliance monitoring and consequences for non-compliance. Outcomes need to be analyzed for cost versus benefit and continuously improve the process.

Jail can be avoided by successful participation in court programs as alternatives to incarceration.
Problem-solving courts look just like traditional courts, but defendants are referred to as “clients.” The judge has extensive knowledge about the client and talks with them directly. The judge monitors a client placed in a treatment program for months or years and periodically returns to court to assess progress and problems. The judge can order the client to serve jail time as a punishment while in a treatment program, and the judge decides when the client is to be released from the program. Specialty Courts and other court programs focus on rehabilitation as an alternative to punishment, instead of jail or for reduced time in jail.

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There are variations in Drug Courts, which include:

Adult Treatment Court: has a specifically designed court calendar intended to deal with substance abuse issues. Participants have regular court appearances, and treatment providers and the Court monitor their progress. In some counties, the principal charge need not be a substance-related charge to participate in the program – but the person must have substance abuse issues and be a non-violent offender.

DUI Court (Sobriety Court) is a post-conviction docket dedicated to changing the alcohol or drug-dependent offender’s behavior. Most of these programs are for second offenders or those with high blood alcohol levels when they were arrested. However, some courts have all drug and alcohol offenses go through its program. The eligibility can vary by Court. The Court’s goal is to protect public safety while addressing the substance abuse’s root cause. These courts systematically use criminal justice professionals and substance abuse treatment professionals to systematically change the program participant’s behavior.

A restricted license is possible even with a suspended or revoked license.

Also, in 2010, the Ignition Interlock Pilot Project was established, which allows for a restricted license to be issued to a person whose driver’s license is suspended, restricted, revoked, or denied based on two or more convictions of driving while intoxicated if the date of the offense occurs on or after January 1, 2011. The individual must also participate in a Sobriety Court program and have an ignition interlock device installed on each motor vehicle they own or operate. (MCL 600.1084) This is one example of many court programs used as sentencing alternatives to incarceration.

Defendants can benefit from treatment in court programs as alternatives to jail and still have their rights protected.

As much as problem-solving courts are beneficial, there are problems. District courts can develop rules and procedures in Michigan well suited for local problems. Michigan allows district courts some latitude to address local issues and budget priorities. But in developing these rules and procedures, the district courts might be creating due process and separation of powers problems. The Michigan legislature believes that problem-solving courts are essential but have not yet enacted laws protecting the participants’ constitutional rights in these programs. Only a lawyer intimately familiar with these programs and the constitutional principles used to protect defendants in felony and misdemeanor cases can be relied upon to protect their clients from potential abuse.

It has been shown that problem-solving courts do work. In addition to helping defendants avoid lengthy jail and prison terms, these programs save money, time, and quite often lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an alternative to jail?

Yes, a good defense lawyer can often find viable alternatives to jail. For example, the lawyer can advocate for tether, community service, house arrest, probation, a fine, etc.

How do you avoid jail sentences?

Even when things seem hopeless, it is often possible to avoid jail. Avoiding contact with law enforcement following the alleged offense is essential. While a case is pending, it might be advisable to attend religious services, volunteer, participate in therapy, attend drug/alcohol treatment, etc. There is no “one-size-fits-all” formula to avoid jail. A skilled, experienced defense lawyer should take the time necessary to thoroughly assess their client’s situation and make appropriate recommendations. In the end, the only thing standing between a defendant and the sentencing judge, is their attorney.

Are there safe alternatives to incarceration?

There are safe alternatives to jail. In fact, most alternatives are safer than jail or prison.

What is alternative punishment?

Alternative punishment includes any sanction imposed by the judge as a penalty or deterrent that does not include incarceration in jail or prison. Tether, house arrest, and work-release and generally considered similar to incarceration but not equivalent.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

A Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You with Court Programs as Alternatives to Jail

If you are charged with DUI, OWI, domestic violence, or another offense that might cause you to be eligible for a problem-solving court, or if you would like to see if you qualify for a program, do not go down that road alone or with an inexperienced attorney. You will need an effective and aggressive Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer with experience and training in these new and innovative programs to guide you through the maze of options available to you. Michigan’s premier criminal defense law firm, LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C., is well respected by judges and members of the legal community. If you are interested in court programs as alternatives to jail, we can help you.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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