- Published: June 8, 2015
Over the past few weeks, several mental health courts have held graduation ceremonies honoring individuals who completed the treatment programs designed to help them gain control of their lives. Participation in mental health court programs is offered as an alternative to jail time to some (generally nonviolent) offenders who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. The programs are intended to help individuals with mental illness learn how to function in society and stay out of the criminal justice system. The Mental Health Court in Flint, Michigan, which was started in October of 2007, recently held its first graduation ceremony for four individuals who completed the year-long treatment program, the requirements of which include: staying on medications, getting jobs or volunteer work and having no further criminal activity. Similar requirements were met by the 17 individuals who were the first graduates of Mental Health Courts in Polk County, Florida and Tulsa County, Oklahoma. There are currently more than 40 people enrolled in each of these programs.
According to a 2007 report published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, an evaluation of the criminal justice outcomes of a San Francisco mental health court revealed that “a mental health court can reduce recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system.” As there currently are more than 150 mental health courts across the U.S., and more are being planned, it is likely that evidence of the efficacy of these programs will continue to accumulate in coming years.