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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
March/April 2009, Volume 17, Number 2 

What Are Mental Health Courts?

One rapidly growing form of jail diversion is mental health courts, which give judges the option of sending certain offenders with mental health problems to treatment rather than jail (see cover story).

According to the 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report, Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Mental Health Court, the number of mental health courts in this country jumped from a handful in the late 1990s to more than 150 today. Dozens more are on the way.

Photo of a judge’s gavel on two stacked books

Modeled after drug courts, mental health courts help communities use limited resources more effectively, improve quality of life for offenders with mental illnesses, and enhance public safety.

Although details vary, these specialized court dockets typically share several characteristics:

  • Voluntary nature. Participation in mental health courts is voluntary. After a specialized screening and assessment, the court may invite eligible defendants to participate in the program. Individuals are free to decline.
  • Problem-solving. Instead of the procedures courts typically use with offenders, mental health courts take a problem-solving approach to select offenders who have a mental illness.
  • Individualized plans. A team comprising court staff and mental health professionals creates and puts into practice individualized plans for community-based treatment.
  • Monitoring. That team then supervises individuals to make sure they’re complying with the terms they’ve agreed to. The court monitors progress at regular hearings, offering rewards or sanctions depending on whether or not participants are adhering to their treatment plans and other conditions.
  • Graduation. Once participants complete all of their requirements, they “graduate” from the program.

Read Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Mental Health Court.

Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Mental Health Court is a report prepared by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project, for the Bureau of Justice Assistance Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. Michael Thompson, Dr. Fred Osher, and Denise Tomasini-Joshi are principal writers.

Previously in SAMHSA News

Helping Young Offenders Return to Communities

Incarceration vs. Treatment: Drug Courts Help Substance Abusing Offenders

Treatment in Lieu of Jail: Diversion Succeeds

  Cover Story & Related Articles  
Treatment as an Alternative to Jail

Treatment as an Alternative to Jail & Related Articles


Funding Opportunities

Requests for applications include a variety of new grants including Project Launch.

Awards for Suicide Prevention

Awards for Suicide Prevention

Symbolic “big checks” were presented to six organizations.

  Underage Drinking  
Underage Drinking: Related Articles

Underage Drinking: Related Articles

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Find out what you can do to help prevent and reduce drinking by teens and college students.

  Building Awareness  
Inhalants Often “First”

Inhalants Often “First”

News of recent deaths from sniffing refrigerants.

Are Prevention Messages Working?

Are Prevention Messages Working?

We’ve heard the commercials urging parents to talk. Are teens getting the message?

American Indians, Alaska Natives

American Indians, Alaska Natives

“Culture Card” offers information on tribal sovereignty, myths & facts, and more.

  Mental Health  

Economy: Help in Tough Times

You can’t see stress, but you certainly can feel it. A new SAMHSA Web site offers resources, referrals, and more.

States, IT, and Mental Health Services

States, IT, and Mental Health Services

A recent report gives a state-by-state update on information technology’s effect.

Lifeline on Twitter

Lifeline on Twitter

“Tweets” from the Nat’l Suicide Prevention Lifeline help awareness.

  Treatment Roundup  

Admissions, Facilities, & More

Recent data from two SAMHSA surveys – National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) and Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) – provide updated information.

DVD Kit on Homelessness

DVD Kit on Homelessness

Programs in Seattle and Philadelphia are two success stories highlighted in this DVD.

Recovery Month

Recovery Month

Send your press releases, studies, and news on recovery for posting on the site.

  Staff in the News  
Kana Enomoto Honored

Kana Enomoto Honored

Deputy Administrator receives the inaugural King Davis Award for Emerging Leadership.

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