Mental Health Courts

Thousands of mentally disordered individuals pass through the criminal justice system each year. Mental health courts have access to representatives of relevant justice and treatment agencies 'to form a cooperative and multidisciplinary working relationship with expertise in mental health issues' (Goldkamp andlrons-Guynn, 2000, p. viii). The judge is at the center of the treatment and supervision process, providing therapeutic direction and overall accountability for the treatment process.

The first mental health court, the Broward County Mental Health Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, grew out of a recommendation of a multi-agency Criminal Justice Mental Health Task Force (Goldkamp and Irons-Guynn, 2000). The Court serves primarily as a pre-adjudication, diversion program for misdemeanants. Clinicians, advanced doctoral students in psychology at a local university assigned to the Public Defender's Office, screen jailed offenders for mental health issues prior to the first hearing. When mental health symptoms are found, the Defender informs the Court at the first hearing. Other mentally ill offenders are identified by Emergency Medial Services Associated, which is a private provider that contracts with the jail to provide mental health, medical, and dental services to the inmates. Other judges, defense lawyers, police, the defendant's family, or mental health caseworker also makes referrals. The Court uses both county and private service providers to respond to the treatment needs of its defendants.

When the referral to the Court is first made, the court employs a monitor who interviews the defendant. If the defendant is not already in treatment, he or she is referred to a community clinic or the university community mental health clinic. Offenders requiring long-term hospitalization are not returned to the Court but typically have their charges dismissed. Other offenders, who are or have been stabilized, are returned to the Court. In the Court, the offender is given the option of entering treatment under the supervision of the Court. The judge and a team of court and treatment representatives have considerable background, experience, and interest in the problems of the mentally ill in the justice system. Services provided include short and long-term residential treatment, including supportive housing, substance abuse treatment, and mental health treatment. During the treatment process, offenders regularly report to the Court so that the judge can review their progress. 'An observer of status reviews is struck by the problem-solving nature of these hearings, as the judge draws on the staff to help first solve any treatment-related concerns and criminal justice issues defendants may be facing and to encourage the defendant's full participation in the individualized, therapeutic treatment process' (Goldkamp and Irons-Guynn, 2000, p. 15). After the participant has been found to be stable, and has performed consistently in treatment long enough to demonstrate responsibility, the criminal charges are dismissed. The success of this type of court and judge can be measured by how well the court is able to locate appropriate services in the community for each defendant, the defendant's compliance with a treatment regimen, and the ability of such diversion to permanently keep the defendant out of the criminal justice system.

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