Over the past decade, Mental Health Courts (MHCs) have spread rapidly across the U.S. These courts aim to reduce recidivism among adults with mental illnesses through diversion into community-based treatment.
Extant research suggests that MHCs can be effective in reducing recidivism, but also demonstrates that effectiveness varies as a function of characteristics of the participants (e.g., criminal history) and the program (e.g., coercion). Less is known regarding the extent to which process-related factors (e.g., length of participation, time between referral and receipt of services) impact effectiveness.
Prior research also is limited by a focus on recidivism during MHC as opposed to postexit. To address these knowledge gaps, we examined recidivism 1 year postexit for a group of MHC participants (n = 57) and offenders receiving treatment as usual (TAU; n = 40), total N = 97. We also investigated the influence of individual characteristics and process factors on changes in jail days 1 year preentry to 1 year postexit for MHC participants.
Overall, results provide some evidence supporting the effectiveness of MHCs. MHC participants had significantly fewer jail days, but not charges or convictions, relative to TAU participants. Among MHC participants, graduation from the MHC, presence of co-occurring substance use, and longer length of MHC participation were associated with greater reductions in jail days. Other process factors were unrelated to reductions in recidivism.
Findings suggest that MHCs may be particularly effective for high-risk participants and that time spent in a MHC has positive effects on recidivism, regardless of graduation status.
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- 1Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University.
- Law Hum Behav. 2016 Apr;40(2):118-27. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000168. Epub 2015 Nov 23.
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