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Mental health courts: Combining judicial supervision with treatment

Mental health courts: Combining judicial supervision with treatment

14 March | 0 Comments | By Arizona Mental Health Helpline Team

The number of people suffering from mental illness has either been underrated or overrepresented the criminal justice system. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), two million people with mental illnesses are arrested and booked in the United States every year. As a result, interventions, such as mental health courts, are gaining popularity across the country. A mental health court is a problem-solving court that combines judicial supervision with community mental health treatment as well as other support services with the aim of reducing criminal activities and bettering the quality of life for participants.

Mental health courts have been established in many jurisdictions across the country, as a response to the growing number of defendants who suffer from serious mental health illnesses. These courts work to make more effective use of the limited criminal justice and mental health resources, to connect individuals with social services in the community, better the outcomes for offenders with mental illness, and to address jail overcrowding and the disproportionate numbers of mentally unwell people in the criminal justice system.

While mental health courts have helped in lowering the incidents of relapse in criminal behaviour, a November 2016 study from the University of Missouri, that got funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and published in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, has found additional social, mental and health benefits for participants of mental health courts as an alternative to serving time in prison.

Growing opportunities for convicts with mental illness

Typically, mental health courts provide a comprehensive approach combining assessments, treatment programs and consistent monitoring to improve the health of the offenders and keep them out of prison by reducing their propensity to conduct crime again. Eligibility is most commonly decided by using the criteria of ‘severe and persistent’ mental illness, with the aim of helping people with long-term and severely impaired functioning because of disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and anxiety.

The focus of past research related to benefits of mental health courts has been on how to reduce criminal activity and increase public safety. But these studies have overlooked the co-presence of another mental condition that may not have reached a diagnosable level but require more attention. Identifying such additional symptoms can incredibly improve the participant recovery success rate within mental health courts rehabilitation programs. This is what researchers, Kelli Canada and Bradley Ray, have tried to do by analyzing interviews of 26 participants from two mental health courts and recording more real-life cases of the offenders themselves. The researchers found that people participating in a mental health program consistently stated that their relationships with family and friends underwent a change for the better. These people were sober for longer periods and also noted an improvement in their mental health because of the medication and counseling they received as part of the program. They further self-reported increased mood stability, better engagement in life and reduced alcohol and drug abuse.

Canada further noted that one vital aspect of bringing change in the criminal justice system is the level and variety of treatment. The participants analyzed in this study benefitted from numerous services such as medication management, therapy and access to social support networks such as Alcoholics Anonymous but not all mental health courts provide the same levels of treatment. However, this research definitely offers a view of how such initiatives can help people with mental illnesses overcome their afflictions and become sober.

Recovery road map

Mental health issues can affect anyone at any stage of their life. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health illness, it’s better to seek professional help. There are several inpatient mental health treatment centers in Arizona that offer holistic interventions to help get your life back on track.

Contact the Arizona Mental Health Helpline representatives to discover the best residential mental health treatment centers in Arizona and find out more about the most effective treatment options. You can call our 24/7 helpline at (866) 606-7791 or chat now with our counselors for expert advice.

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