About 90 mental health courts operate around the U.S., yet little is known about the extent to which they reduce the chances of a defendant’s committing another crime. Psychiatric News reports that a study of the mental health court in San Francisco documents reduced levels of recidivism, although questions remain about what accounts for outcomes and who gets to participate in the programs. Dale McNeil and Renée Binder of the the University of California, San Francisco compared 170 criminal defendants who entered the mental health court with 8,067 other offenders who received treatment as usual.
The mental health court graduates remained at a lower risk of recidivism even after they left the court’s supervision. At 18 months, mental health court participants were 26 percent less likely to be charged with any new crime and 54 percent less likely to be charged with a violent crime. Because many defendants in the San Francisco program were charged with violent crimes, results with this more-difficult population argue for expanding the use of mental health courts beyond individuals who have committed minor offenses, as is the case in some other areas, said McNeil and Binder.