In my last several posts, I’ve reviewed what mental health court is, and the pros and cons of such a system. In my final post on this topic, we’ll take a look at what the future holds for mental health courts in the United States and some of the recommendations to improve upon this system.
Research from mental health courts that have been in operation for a few years has suggested that overall, mental health courts are here to stay. Communities that have implemented a mental health court system have found that the pros outweigh the cons, and have begun to look at ways to improve the functioning of mental health courts.
- Involvement should be voluntary and participants should be allowed to withdraw at any time.
- Mental health advocates should play a role in the participants’ counsel options.
- Eliminate the guilty plea requirement: it adds a conviction to the person’s record and may not have occurred if the person entered criminal court.
- Rather than dealing with misdemeanors, mental health courts should only deal with felonies to avoid clogging an already over-taxed system.
- Training of police officers to deal with homeless, mentally ill offenders that commit “crimes of survival” should be a pre-booking component of mental health courts to avoid congestion of mental health courts.
- Standard, written protocols should be developed for mental health courts to strive for consistency among jurisdictions.
- Incarceration should be a last resort, and not used as the only sanction for non-compliance.
- Confidentiality should take precedence, and non-essential clinical information should not be discussed in court.
Overall, it is important that the criminal justice system not serve as the entryway for mental health services. The more preventative measures we can build into the mental health system, the more likely we are to catch these hard to serve populations prior to committing a crime.
This is the last post of a four part series exploring mental health courts. This series examined the role of mental health courts, the pros and cons of such courts, and future considerations. (To read the other posts in this series, click here.)
If you, or someone you know, has a mental illness and becomes involved with the criminal justice system, consider reading the article “Dealing with the Criminal Justice System” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The article provides a great overview of what to expect throughout the criminal proceedings, and offers unique information for those with a mental illness.