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Challenges of Mental Health Courts

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Law
Wordcount: 1490 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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 The court system was created to punish those who have done wrong in our society by breaking the law but in a just manner. The judge appoints what most would say is fair punishment whether in the form of jail time if the severity of the crime deems it so. Other times it is a probationary period along with other details on top of it. These details would help the offender rehabilitate himself such a drug rehabilitation or if the individual had some sort of mental impairment. There is a special type of court for each of these individual type of offenders.

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The vast majority of prisons are not fully equipped to properly deal with the individual who does have mental health issues or disabilities. Mental Health Courts are “defined as specialized court dockets-for certain defendants with mental illness-that substitute problem solving model in place of traditional court processing” according to Judge Randy T. Rodgers and his publication “Mental Health Courts Fad Or Future?”. In this article, Rodgers goes into further detail of explaining why he thinks the mental health court system is a “special docket” in the probate system. The first Mental Health Court was “established” in 1997 in Broward Country in Florida. Since then there have been more than 100 courts created across the United States for those who have Mental Health and Drug problems and have committed a low-level crime.

The Mental Health courts were created partially due to the fact that there were many individuals failing in the Drug Court because of their illness. The concept was connected to the development of the drug courts in 1989 according to Henry J. Steadman, Ph.D, Susan Davidson, M.A., and Collie Brown B.A and their article “Law & Psychiatry: Mental Health Courts: Their Promise and Unanswered Problems”. This article also goes on to point out that the Mental Health Court was flawed when it first started out and but because of the enthusiasm that some of the flaws were looked over. Like many new systems, there will be problems because nothing like this has ever been around up until now. The mental health courts took the model the drug courts had and followed it as well.

The mental health court is meant to not only help individuals who have been in trouble and help them along with their diseases or disabilities, but also deter any criminal activity the individual may have done beforehand. These courts were set up to ensure the offender gets the help and the monitoring her needs and is required to have in the community. Every court is different with what they deem as “reasonable” punishment for the offender.

What is mental health and what is defined as a mental illness? Most people find it difficult to define either of the two because they both could be easily used to define one another. Most people use the terms and their definitions incorrectly, which is why Shelli B. Rossman, Janeen Buck Willison, Kamala Mallik-Kane, Kiduek Kim, Sara Debus-Sherrill, and P. Mitchell Downey have defined them. According to “Criminal Justice Interventions For Offenders with Mental Illness: Evaluation of Mental Health Courts In Bronx and Brooklyn, New York”, “mental health is constituted as “a state of successful performance of mental function resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.” While mental illness is defined as “all diagnosable mental disorders which health conditions characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (either independently or in combination) associated with distress or impaired functioning.” They also connect Mental Health and illness to crime. The vast majority of those with a mental illness do not seek treatment. We often find these individuals at a loss of what they are supposed to be doing or what their skewed perception of what is wrong versus what is wrong. There is a need for this type of court system. There is no rehabilitating an individual who has never acknowledged that something may be wrong or even by having the means to reach out.

Using mental health in the court of law as a defense is useful and beneficial because they could get the same type of treatment in jail but perhaps not the same quality. Also admitting them into the prison system may do them more harm than good. Is having a separate court reasonable? According to “Position Statement 53: Mental Health Courts” the money used is used in such a manner than not only does it benefit the individual it benefits the entire criminal justice court system. The article states that it is near impossible to provide these services in the prison and jail. It also points out the flaws that the system may have. The courts objective is to help as many individuals to not only deter them from crime but to reduce prison and jail population. The objective is to not remove every homeless person, that is what they call a “lifestyle offense”. It is suggested that it not only offensive to the individual but to the court system as well because it is not resolving anything on either parts. The objective is not to solve homelessness, the objective is to help those in the system with treatment as well as deterrence from committing crimes again.

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 There are certain steps the offender goes through when he is in the Mental Health Court system. Nicole L. Waters published “MHCPM: Mental Health Courts Performance Measures”, in which she goes through the crucial steps within the system. There are so many different steps all equally important to resocialize the individual into society but few stood out. The list was split up into different categories Accountability is a very large part of rehabilitation in general but with the mentally ill, it is far more important for them to realize what type of crime they have committed and why it was wrong. Social functioning is also very important because it is a crucial part of recovery, there needs to be a clean stable environment for the individual. The process of the offenders case that tells the probation officer and the judge the status of the offender. It is crucial for the people individuals observing the offender to determine if the “rehabilitation” is helping as well as working. The individualized treatment for the offender or whether that person can be issued with group counseling instead. Treatment needs to be fair and appropriate for the individual not everyone is the same or will react the same. The result is also a very important factor because this is the product of the system. This is crucial because the feedback helps with improving the MHC. There always needs to be communication from every single side whether it be the offender to their supervisor to the judge and prosecutor. Lack of communication will hinder not just one part of the program but the entire result.

 Mental Health Courts were made to provide justice and punishment to the offender just like the regular criminal court were, the difference is that with this type of court the individuals are provided with the programs they need to fully understand their actions and how to reconstitute themselves back into society. These individuals will never be cured from their illness, it is just not possible but they can be given the tools to help them cope with their illness. Mental Health Courts are needed to provide this kind of help and have a cheaper alternative than to just send them to jail or prison.


  • Position statement 53: Mental health courts | mental health america. (2009, September 12). Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/positions/mental-health-courts
  • Rogers, R. T. (2006, July 6). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.butlercountyprobatecourt.org/pdf/Mental Health Courts -Illustrated.pdf
  • Rossman, S. B., Willison, J. B., Mallik Kane, K., Kim, K., Debus-Sherill, S., & Downey, P. M. (2012). Criminal justice interventions for offenders with mental illness: Evaluation of mental health courts in bronx and brooklyn, new york. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/238264.pdf
  • Steadman, H., Davidson, S., & Brown, C. (2001). Law & psychiatry: Mental health courts. Psychiatric Services52(4), Retrieved from http://journals.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=85721
  • Waters, N. L. (2010). Mhcpm: Mental health courts performance measures. Retrieved from http://cdm16501.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/spcts/id/218


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