Should MHCs accept serious offenders?

Mental Health Court

Should MHCs accept serious offenders?

  • Some research suggests that MHCs that accept felony offenders, as compared to those that accept misdemeanant offenders only, can decrease recidivism while still maintaining public safety. 
  • MHCs can focus on high-risk and high-need offenders with positive public safety outcomes, but treatment services in the community are critical to also address early mental health courts typically accepted offenders charged with non-violent misdemeanors. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court was one of the first mental health courts to accept offenders charged with felonies. For an excellent analysis of this topic, including the reasoning by stakeholders to focus on felony offenders and lessons learned in the Brooklyn Court, click on the following link: These investigators hypothesized that felony offenders may have better outcomes than misdemeanor offenders for two reasons: (1) when the stakes are higher and sentences are lengthy, as they are for felony offenders, compliance will increase; and (2) felony offenders have longer mandated stays in treatment, which produces better outcomes. A more recent project examining variables associated with program compliance and recidivism in this particular court noted that a key finding was that results “support the practice of admitting into mental health court those arraigned on more serious (felony) offenses, as these participants were less, not more, likely to demonstrate poor compliance or re-arrest.”

Similarly, McNeil and colleagues utilized a prospective study design to examine outcomes for 169 jail detainees with a major mental disorder, 72% of which had been charged with felonies. MHC participation was associated with a reduction in violence risk, even for those offenders with more serious crimes. Similarly, Steadman and colleagues (2014) looked at data from the MacArthur Mental Health Court Study and emphasized that MHCs which focus on individuals who have cycled through jails and who use substances may reduce overall taxpayer cost and have most positive impact, assuming that evidenced-based services targeting this group are available and appropriately monitored.


McNeil, D.E., Sadeh, N., Delucchi, K.L., Binder, R.L. (2015). Prospective study of violence risk reduction by a mental health court. Psychiatric Services In Advance, February 16, 2015; doi: 10.1176/

Reich, W. A., Picard-Fritsche, S., Cerniglia, L., & Hahn, J. W. (2012). Predictors of program compliance and re-arrest in the brooklyn mental health court. Center for Court Innovation, Retrieved from

Steadman, H.J., Callahan, L., Robbins, P.C., Vesselinov, R., McGuire, T.G., Morrissey, J.P. (2014). Criminal justice and behavioral health care costs of Mental Health Court participants: a six year study. Psychiatric Services 65(9):1100-1104. doi.10.1176/