Research

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  • 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.
Mental Health Court
  • Among the general community, those with mental illness are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than people without a mental illness.
  • For the most part, persons with mental illness become involved in the criminal justice system for the same reasons that persons without major illness do.
  • Although mental illness may be relevant to violence risk, this linkage is often over-reported and its causal roles are complex and likely rooted in individual and situational cofactors.
  • Active substance use among individuals with MI has been associated with higher criminal recidivism (which may or may not include violent crimes) across multiple studies.
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  • Most MHC’s serve offenders diagnosed with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
  • Other common disorders typically seen in MHC’s include anxiety disorders, personality disorders, neurological impairment and/or intellectual disabilities.
  • Research studies also suggest that over half of MHC participants are considered dual-diagnosis with ongoing problems of alcohol and drug use in addition to their mental health concerns.
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  • The research in this area is in its infancy, although a few studies suggest that MHC participants have fewer psychiatric hospitalization days as compared to matched control groups.
  • Some studies suggest that implementation of MHC’s may increase awareness and understanding of mental health issues across the court system, leading to improved psychiatric and psychosocial outcomes for all offenders.
  • The ability of MHC’s to improve important psychiatric outcomes may largely be a function of the range and quality of services available.
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  • Research studies suggest that success in MHC can be defined and measured in a multitude of ways, and varies considerably across study.
  • Meta-analytic studies generally suggest that participants that successfully graduate from MHC are at a moderately decreased risk for future recidivism and re-arrest, although research remains limited.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of MHCs from a scientific perspective is very challenging due to significant idiosyncrasies between courts, relatively weak methodological designs, as well as macro influences that are difficult to quantify and standardize. Very few studies use random matched comparison groups, and expected base rate of recidivism against which program effectiveness can be judged often remains unknown.
  • Future research is moving towards the investigation of mediators and moderators, and asking the important question, “For whom, and under what circumstances, are MHCs effective?”
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