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Analysis of Mental Health Courts

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The closure of state mental hospitals nationwide created a lack of resources for people with mental illness. These people found themselves in the prison population longer than counterparts who had similar offenses due to their illnesses not being treated appropriately. With the increase of prisoners and longer prison terms, prison overcrowding continued. Upon release mentally ill prisoners found themselves without resources and were again introduced back into the criminal system. To address this vicious cycle, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that created support for a separate court that strictly focused on the mentally ill criminal population. A study conducted by Dr Dale McNiel and Dr Renee Binder found that mental health courts reduced reoccurring criminal offenses among participants versus those with mental disorders that did not participate.

President Clinton signed a bill in November 2000, authorizing the creation of up to 100 mental health courts and $10 million a year for four years for their maintenance (Steadman, Ph. D, Davidson, M.A., & Brown, B.A., 2001). President Clinton signed this bill following the creation of the first mental health court in Broward County, Florida in 1997. Supporters of the court advocated for more courts to be opened because of the increase of mentally ill patients being introduced into the prison systems. According to McNiel, Ph. D and Binder, M.D. (2007) the proportion of people entering the U.S. jails who have severe mental disorders were estimated to be between 6% and 15%.

Mental health courts goal was to embrace a therapeutic approach by targeting the root cause of criminal offenses. Although mental health courts have no streamline model like traditional courts; they hold similar features including: separate dockets for defendants with mental disorders, a designated judge along with a designated prosecution and defense counsel, a joint decision making process between criminal justice and mental health professionals (McNiel, Ph. D & Binder, M.D., 2007).

The idea of mental health courts flow directly from the success of the drug court model which were developed as a joint response by the court and community to the overwhelming volume of drug related cases (Steadman, Ph. D, Davidson, M.A., & Brown, B.A., 2001). Like the drug courts, participation in the mental health court in voluntary. Defendants must qualify for mental health court and agree to the courts conditions. To quality for mental health court, defendants must be diagnosed as having a DSM-IV axis mental disorder or in some circumstances developmental disabilities (McNiel, Ph. D & Binder, M.D., 2007). Defendants

must also be willing to follow a treatment plan and be monitored by the court with the expectation of a reduction in charge or sentencing (McNiel, Ph. D &



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