Mental Health, Drug Courts: Right Results For Wrong Reasons?


Are mental health courts and drug courts examples of doing the right things for the wrong reasons? That’s a question asked by Scott Henson on his Grits for Breakfast blog. Henson cites Jennifer Skeem, who he says argues that mental illness is rarely a direct, causal factor of crime – only about one in ten offenses by people with severe mental illness result directly from their mental health condition. Another commentator, E. Lea Johnston, says that “provision of mental health treatment alone is not an effective strategy for reducing recidivism of offenders with mental illnesses. Studies have found that providing intensive mental health services, and not addressing broader criminogenic needs, does not reduce rates of criminal behavior for individuals with mental illnesses.”

Henson says mental health courts may “work” from a practical perspective, even if some of their theoretical premises are flawed, because in practice they’re among the only places in the criminal justice system aggressively using evidence-based strong probation programming that actively targets criminogenic needs. The same can be said for drug courts. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has criticized drug courts. Henson says many of their criticisms are justified (though such courts are nearly as diverse as the judges who implement them and cookie-cutter criticisms may not always apply). Drug courts, like mental health courts, are more likely to use evidence-based strong probation practices. What’s more, judges are more likely to be directly engaged with probationers in such courts instead of leaving all contact to the probation bureaucracy.

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