It’s State of the Judiciary season all across the United States, with chief justices traveling to state legislatures to lay out the success and challenges of their respective judicial branches. In Missouri, Chief Justice Zel Fischer used this year’s address to seek support for additional treatment courts — state courts specially designed to work with offenders who have drug addictions. Fifteen Missouri counties currently lack a treatment court.
The growth of specialized courts like treatment courts across the country reflect growing sense that the court system can better address criminal and other socially undesirable activity by becoming more involved in preventing its root causes. This is a divergence from the traditional role of the courts, designed only to neutrally determine guilt or liability in an individual case. Courts are increasingly seen as a component of a larger network of public and private organizations that can, collectively, address such issues with more depth. Hopefully the impact of specialized courts will be the subject of further study — and if a positive impact is shown, court systems and legislatures will be willing to further experiment with the systemic structure of state judicial systems.