Instead of jail, many people who suffer mental illness and commit crimes are being sent to mental health courts, modeled after the more than 500 drug courts nationwide that offer substance abuse counseling over prison time, the Associated Press reports. About 90 such courts around the nation offer an alternative approach to sentencing offenders.
The greatest challenge reported by mental health officials is targeting potential candidates as early as possible, says a U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance report on mental health courts. Such intervention avoids “the damaging experience of arrest and confinement” while helping to stabilize the offender medically and provide support. Defendants are expected to stick to their ordered treatment of prescriptions, counseling and, sometimes, substance abuse prevention courses. If they don’t, the must return to prison. The mental health dockets for the courts are relatively low–fewer than a dozen a month for the courts in Alabama. Judges report a high success rate with only a handful returning to the program or ending up in jail.