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Issue Brief: Taking Public Health to Court

posted on Wed, Feb 1 2012 12:00 am by Northern Region

As the public health community embraces “health in all policies,” various sectors are gaining recognition as important public health partners. Acknowledging the obesity challenge, for example, public health agencies are collaborating with transportation departments in an effort to include public health considerations (increased walking and physical activity) in transportation plans. Courts should be added to the list of partners as the public health community strives to establish and implement health in all policies. Decisions made by courts around the country regularly have important public health implications.

Judges are increasingly employing innovative alternative approaches to address difficult recurring issues confronted by courts throughout the country. Generally referred to as “restorative justice,” “therapeutic judging” or “problem-solving courts” (facets of these courts can be traced to early tribal approaches to community problem solving), these courts can be characterized as employing public health approaches to judicial decision making.

These courts specialize in addressing issues that are obviously of concern to public health officials and practitioners, particularly with regard to vulnerable populations. This issue brief describes several types of specialized “public health” courts. Specialized courts aside, the judicial system’s intervention in the lives of individuals can have important public health implications. Examples of such interventions are also briefly discussed. Particular note is made of evidence demonstrating public health effects of specialized courts or judicial interventions.

View/Download the Issue Brief