120 Mental Health Courts: Money Saved, Recidivism Down


San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court is a 3-year-old program that gives criminal defendants with serious psychological problems a chance for reform through city mental health clinics and regular monitoring by the court’s three-person staff, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The court claims a recidivism rate of 12 percent. It is part of a two-decade-long push to find alternative methods to incarcerating people who are mentally ill or repeat drug-use offenders. “Problem-solving courts” emerged in the 1980s with drug courts and are growing out of a recognition that, for some, doing time in prison will not prevent further crime and will be more costly to taxpayers than treatment. “Mental health courts are popping up all over the nation,” said Allison Redlich of Policy Research Associates in New York City. “About once a week, a new court pops up somewhere in the United States. There are about 120 overall so far.”

Redlich’s organization is beginning a three- to four-year study of mental health courts in San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Orleans Parish, La., and Hennepin County, Minn. The rate of mental illness in U.S. jails and prisons is 16 percent, more than three times the average for all Americans, and at least 75 percent of those people have substance abuse problems. With 2 million people behind bars in the United States, and 10 million booked into jails every year, cities, counties and courts are looking for ways to ease the burden. Barry Mahoney, president emeritus of the Justice Management Institute in Denver, said, “Everywhere we look, we see the benefits of these courts. They work better for the mentally ill, there is less recidivism and less use of drugs. The courts may not necessarily save money, but society certainly does.”

Link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/23/MNGBNGRIFC1.DTL

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