Bruce J. Winick Colloquium Focuses on Standards in Problem-Solving Courts


Experts and policymakers came together last week at the Bruce J. Winick Fall 2012 Colloquium to discuss issues relating to so-called problem-solving courts. These specialized panels, such as drug courts, mental health courts and re-entry courts, focus on the use of treatment rather than incarceration as a response to certain categories of criminal offenders. Held at the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center, the daylong roundtable evolved into a far-reaching and evolving conversation on the courts today and where they might strive to head in the future.

The event was held in honor of the late Bruce J. Winick, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law for more than 35 years. Professor Winick co-founded the field of therapeutic jurisprudence, which studies the effects of law and the legal system on the behavior and mental health of people. The scholarship of Professor Winick was frequently invoked at the Colloquium. The event was co-sponsored by the Therapeutic Jurisprudence Center, which Professor Winick founded in 2009; the Journal of Psychology, Public Policy & Law; and the Arsht Ethics Initiatives.

Three panels covered aspects of therapeutic jurisprudence: "Legal Standards in the Problem-Solving Courts," led by Christopher Slobogin, the Milton Underwood Chair in Law, Professor of Psychiatry, and Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt Law School; "Therapeutic Standards in the Problem-Solving Courts," moderated by Henry Steadman, President of Policy Research Associates, Inc.; and "Empirical Studies of the Problem-Solving Courts," led by Jeffrey Fagan, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, and Director of the Center for Crime, Community and Law at Columbia Law School.

The last panel was comprised of four local problem-solving court judges who candidly responded to the issues raised by the prior three panels. The judges were: Hon. Deborah White-Labora, Criminal Division, Miami-Dade County Court, 11th Judicial Circuit; Hon. Jeri Beth Cohen, Juvenile Division,Miami-Dade County Court, 11th Judicial Circuit; Hon. Melanie May, Chief Judge, Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal; and Hon. Judith Rubenstein, Domestic Violence Division, Miami-Dade County Court, 11th Judicial Circuit, who moderated the judges' panel. The discussions were interspersed with coffee breaks, lunch, and a cocktail reception that continued the lively dialog between stakeholders.

"Compared to the more typical conference format that often results in an experience of 'talking-head' speakers attended by a passive audience, this Colloquium was designed to be more intimate, interactive and productive," said Sean Bettinger-Lopez, Law and Psychology Fellow and Lecturer in Law, University of Miami School of Law. "The goal was to generate more of an evolving conversation, where the panels would be referencing each other and setting up questions for each other. So we had intra-panel dialogues, inter-panel dialogues, and robust dialogues with the audience. It was all very spontaneous and impromptu -- no canned speeches or presentations. At times it had a sort of town-hall meeting feel."

The attendees included Marilyn Roberts, from the U.S. Department of Justice; Tom Headley, the Training Director of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office; Paul Kaminsky, a senior supervising attorney in the Miami-Dade Public Defender's office; and Judge Michele Singer, a Broward County civil judge recently appointed to sit in drug court.

Eric Miller, Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law and Visiting Professor, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, described the conference as "amazing" and summed it up afterwards by providing a comprehensive appraisal of its merits: "This slightly different format prompted conversations, encouraged us to think collaboratively, and sometimes forced each other to think differently about problem-solving courts. Professor Rosen started by suggesting that therapeutic jurisprudence ... was a romantic theory of justice, and perhaps we can think of today's conference as being a form of romantic realism because one of the interesting aspects of the conference has been to emphasize that the problem-solving courts take a pragmatic, realistic response to the overly punitive aspects of the criminal justice system and the welfare system's failure to provide necessary treatment for individuals who suffer from drug addiction, mental illness, and a host of other problems.

"One of the things that really moved the conversation forward a lot was the idea that judges are not only taking responsibility for process and procedure, they are now taking responsibility for outcomes," Professor Miller went on. "So developing procedural operational standards, it seems, has transformed the process itself to be evaluated in terms of the outcomes that it produces. So we can think of some of the procedural standards, and in particular, due process as not only, but certainly essentially, what the law requires in terms of more or less process in terms of stages of the criminal justice system, but also what outcome that process produces in terms of the panoply of legal and social outcomes. In particular, one emphasis of the conference has been on the issue of voluntariness and coercion; recognizing that voluntariness and coercion operates not only differently upon different populations -- rich and poor, insider and outsider -- but also in terms of what might be thought of as private coercion, social service coercion in addition to legal coercion so we need to take a broader understanding of how individuals are coerced intoproblem solving courts and how we worry about that and how we remedy those worries.

"I think the second line of the conference has been worrying about operational standards, best practices, and judicial effects. Certainly we are facing a significant challenge for the future in developing those standards to determine precisely what works and then how to enforce those standards once published and developed. It seemed to me that there were a couple of worries: One is the administrative delegation of the enforcement of standards from judges to social workers and health care providers, and the issue of judges taking responsibility from monitoring the provision of treatment services and making sure that not only were the recommendations evidence-based but also effective in terms of whatresources were provided. Another theme was bringing in community standards into problem-solving courts. One of the attractive things is that it brings both the standards in the professional community of service provision into the problem solving court but it also brings the lived experience of offenders traveling through the criminal justice system before the judge who can then take a broader and more nuanced approach to determining how to deal with what is a very difficult class of offenders, whose problems often appear intractable not only to them but to everyone else.

"These things have been fascinating," said Professor Miller. "I think many would agree that the quality of this conference has done well in honoring the memory of Bruce Winick."