With half a million individuals with mental illness incarcerated at any given time, the need for services within the criminal justice system goes beyond humane treatment of mentally ill offenders; it becomes an issue of money, and, like it or not, that is where your average citizen becomes interested.
It costs between $20,000 and $40, 000 on average to house an inmate, with higher costs for those with mental illness, due to their treatment needs (medication, therapy, etc.). One of the main strengths of the mental health court system is the money saving properties that come about when a mentally ill person is placed in treatment, over a jail or prison. A recent study indicated that thousands of dollars per mental health court participant is saved each time a person is successfully diverted from incarceration.
More importantly, there are treatment benefits as well. Overall, studies have found that mental health courts:
- Reduce recidivism among participants
- Improve mental health outcomes
- Reduce the length of incarceration for participants
The reduction in recidivism has been significant in some places. In dealing with a population that is difficult to manage within the criminal justice system, mental health courts have single-handedly cut recidivism for mentally ill offenders by 25%-75%, depending on the jurisdiction.
Mental health courts have been successful at saving money for their communities, reducing recidivism and length of incarceration for mentally ill offenders, and improving the compliance and effectiveness of clients within mental health treatment programs, thereby improving the wellness of the individual. So, why does a program that seems so successful have so many critics? Find out in the next installment of this multi-part series that will examine the downside to mental health courts.
This post is Part II of a multi-part series exploring mental health courts. This series will examine 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.