By Danielle Nick

Matthew Schmonsees has served as the Philadelphia Treatment Court and DUI Treatment Court Coordinator since 2009. Prior to holding this position, Schmonsees was involved in behavioral healthcare. After a brief synopsis of his career background, Schmonsees opened up the discussion to our class. He was curious to know what we knew about problem solving courts/ drug treatment courts. The general consensus was that we were all pretty ignorant to the details of treatment courts.

Schmonsees explained how problem solving courts are one of the newest criminal justice initiatives. Today, there are approximately 3,000 drug courts in the United States. As time progressed, the scope of problem solving courts has expanded. A few of these advancements are DUI courts, mental health courts, and gun courts. Though the topic of these courts vary, the premise is the same. All of these problem solving courts provide a better solution than ignorantly incarcerating people for a crime. “Unlike a traditional courtroom, in a drug treatment court everyone works together as a team,” Schmonsees said. There is a tremendous focus on rehabilitation of the offender, which is lacking from the traditional criminal justice system. He then went into specifics of the Philadelphia Treatment Court.

In 1997, the first drug court was established in Philadelphia. Schmonsees explained how this is an exciting year, as the court is coming up on its 20th anniversary. Additionally, he discussed how the Philadelphia Treatment Court works. Offenders must complete various phases, and  said he goal is ultimately to graduate and get rid of any charges brought against them. He said each year approximately 200 people graduate the program. With a 78% graduation rate, the program appears to be effective. Additionally, 91% of the graduates stay out of the system after one year of graduation. According to Schmonsees, these statistics are crucial because they prove that “positive reinforcement works much better than punishment.”