The aim of Mental Health Court is to reduce re-offense and increase the quality of life among those diagnosed with mental illnesses and those who have co-occurring substance abuse conditions that cause significant impairment.
A recent case study
was released on the benefits of the Sacramento County Mental Health Court
, a collaboration between the court, criminal justice agencies, District Attorney, Public Defender, Probation, Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services
(Alcohol and Drug Services and Mental Health Services), community based providers and mental/behavioral healthcare systems. The study looked at the effectiveness of the Sacramento Mental Health Court in reducing recidivism rates among recent participants.
Sacramento County Mental Health Court participants must have crimes that are considered low-level and they must not be considered public safety risks. The vast majority have had significant psychiatric hospitalizations in the past, roughly 40 percent have a substance use disorder, and numerous have arrests for minor crimes.
“The cost to the community for hospitalizations and jails stays is significant – it was these costs that led to the creation of the Mental Health Court,” said Ryan Quist, Behavioral Health Director. “Rather than keep running those with mental illness through the system, it was decided it was better for the clients and the community to stop the vicious circle and help the clients with mental health and substance use treatment.”
To be successful, these Mental Health Court participants often just need to take their medications and avoid illegal drugs/alcohol. The court requires probation and conditions, including a treatment plan that requires participants to take their medications, attend therapy groups and avoid using illegal drugs/alcohol. They must appear in court every week and follow their treatment plans or may be remanded into jail custody. After successful completion of Mental Health Court, participants graduate and their cases are dismissed. To date, more than 200 offenders with mental illness have successfully completed Mental Health Court.
When asking Mr. Seeley, a recent graduate of Mental Health Court about his experience with the program, he said, “Court helped me keep a balance in my life and supplied me with positive people who wanted the best for me. It also helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle to not become an inmate again. I also appreciated the periodical support boost by the judge.”
Findings of the study showed many beneficial effects of Mental Health Court
- Some 70 percent of participants successfully graduated from the program. On average, graduates participated in the Mental Health Court for 15 months; participants who were deleted (removed) participated for 10 months; and dropped participants participated for five months.
- Mental Health Court graduates had a lower rate of re-arrest than non-graduates. If a defendant were to participate the Mental Health Court program, his or her rate of re-arrest should decrease by 25 percent. Defendants who participated in the Mental Health Court program had lower rates of reoffending rate after the program than they did prior to enrollment and the average number of arrests reduced.
- The results suggested that graduates had lower odds (decreased by 75 percent) of being hospitalized than non-graduates. Mental Health Court graduates were less likely to go into hospital in the year following Mental Health Court enrollment than non-graduates and had fewer hospitalization days than non-graduates.
- Graduates of Mental Health Court had a decrease in re-offense across genders, ethno-racial backgrounds, and ages. Thus, the Sacramento Mental Health Court appears to be appropriate for a demographically diverse array of individuals.
“The case study revealed participants and stakeholders had positive attitudes toward Mental Health Court,” said Kelli Weaver, Mental Health Program Division Manager. “Both groups described the court as benefitting the public good while improving the lives of the defendants. Participants noted positive working relationships among professionals, as well as effective judicial leadership, as particularly significant keys to the Mental Health Court’s successes.”
“Life is so different for me today,” said Mr. Seeley. “I enjoy new relationships as well as a constant supply of first beginnings like an apartment, and a car, as well as a healthy outlook on life in general. Graduating has given me a big boost of confidence to continue to do better.”
“We are very proud of the success of our Sacramento Mental Health Court model,” said Quist. “The structure of our court shows effective collaborative relationships among justice partners, the leadership of the judge and a strategic use of sanctions as an important component of the system to motivate participants.”
“I am honored to serve as the judge for such an important local initiative,” said Judge Lawrence Brown, Sacramento County Superior Court. “Looking forward, we are looking to increase the allotment of Probation Officer time to expand capacity to monitor participants, and likely accept a greater number and wider array of participants.”
Mental Health Court recently received funding from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to expand capacity and monitor participants through a dedicated case manager to assist participants with obtaining needed services and navigating the behavioral health system, Probation, Courts and other service systems.
The Mental Health Court treatment group studied for this project consisted of 71 defendants who participated in the Mental Health Court from 2012 to 2014.