Based on research done Costopoulos, Julie. S., and Wellman, Bethany. L., (2017) written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.
Those with severe mental illnesses are at risk for being charged with misdemeanor crimes such as trespassing or disorderly conduct, secondary to deficits of their illness. Jails fill with repeat sentences for the mentally ill, but treatment is not provided. Mental health treatment may be more effective and less expensive than incarceration in reducing recidivism. Can mental health courts that mandate treatment reduce the future incarceration of those with mental illness?
Psychologist researchers examined 118 defendants’ criminal history and diagnoses prior to beginning mental health court and for three years after. Of these offenders, 80 graduated from the mental health court while 38 failed to meet mental health treatment guidelines (due to drug or alcohol use or homelessness). Prior criminal behavior, no matter how serious, was not an indicator of reoffending after treatment for both completers and those failing to graduate. Even when participants reoffended after failing treatment, they committed less serious crimes, with the severity of offenses declining the longer they remained in the mental health court.
This 3-year follow-up study gives hope to utilizing mental health court to alleviate the cyclical nature of incarcerating the mentally ill, while also preserving tax dollars.
Costopoulos, J. S., & Wellman, B. L. (2017). The Effectiveness of One Mental Health Court: Overcoming Criminal History. Psychological Injury and Law, 10(3), 254-263.