What is a Mental Health Court?
A mental health court is a special court program that diverts non-violent criminal offenders who have been diagnosed with an Axis I mental illness from the criminal justice system into treatment. Offenders undergo a professional mental health evaluation by a licensed psychologist before being accepted.
The program includes a three step, progressively narrowing protocol for participant inclusion.
- Non-clinical referral and screening
- Clinical diagnostic assessment and screening
- Completion of a treatment plan
The following are the minimum requirements for acceptance into mental health court as a voluntary diversion program offering treatment alternatives to conviction and incarceration for the mentally ill.
- Offenders must be charged with misdemeanor and/or non violent felonies. Those charged with crimes against children and sex crimes are excluded.
- Offenders must have a serious mental illness, i.e., a primary Axis I diagnosis of serious mental disorder with or without other co-occurring disorders.
- Offenders must be stable enough to understand and comply with the program requirements.
- Offenders must not pose an unacceptable risk to either the program staff or the community.
- Offenders must be amenable to treatment, and appropriate care for the offender must be available.
If accepted, participants must attend assigned mental health and other treatment and abstain from criminal behavior. Participating offenders are closely supervised in the community by multi-disciplinary treatment teams that are dedicated to improving the client’s social functioning and decreasing their contact with the criminal justice system. Supervision may include random drug testing if an offender has a co-occurring substance abuse issue.
The length of court supervision and regular periodic review continues up to the maximum allowable sentence or probation for the charged offense, or until completion of the prescribed treatment plan by the offender, if sooner. The typical participation time is approximately one year in mental health court. Successful completion of the treatment plan results in dismissal or reduction of charges and reduced or deferred sentencing. Upon graduation, participants are encouraged to voluntarily continue treatment and services in the community, and case management is transferred to the applicable regional mental health facility for continuity of care.
The missions and goals of mental health court follow.
- Prevent criminalization of mental illness
- Develop and maintain partnerships between criminal justice, mental health, and social service systems to offer qualified offenders a court monitored treatment alternative to prosecution and incarceration consistent with public safety
- Decrease mentally ill offenders’ frequency of contact with the criminal justice system by improving individuals’ social functioning through mental health treatment, stable employment, housing and social support services.
- For more information on mental health courts, contact Jeffrey Ellis, State Mental Health Court Coordinator, at 304-340-2956.