What is Mental Health Court?

mental health court, What is Mental Health Court?

Mental health courts are a type of specialty court that exist within the criminal justice system. They have been developing steadily over the last few decades. Their purpose is to help individuals with mental health issues navigate the criminal justice system.  

In the State of Florida, this special court docket and its problem-solving approach have helped thousands of state residents. A mental health court can focus on addressing issues related to mental health and criminal charges.

The History of Mental Health Court

The origins of this type of court are closely linked to the emergence of drug courts. 

Drug courts were created to establish specific procedures and resources for those struggling with substance abuse. Their purpose was to help prevent people from repeating their offenses by first helping them deal with substance abuse problems.   

Mental health courts operate similarly, but with a focus on mental illnesses. They work through cross-system collaboration and community-driven treatment.

In other words, this specialty court relies on various departments working together for a common goal. This collaboration involves local law enforcement, medical experts, educators, legal counsel, and more.

What Are the Goals of Mental Health Courts?

This specialty court can be beneficial for both defendants and the state. The mental health court system in Florida works to accomplish the following goals:

1. Reduce the Rates of Criminal Recidivism

Recidivism refers to a person’s tendency to continue repeating an offense. Not all people charged with committing an offense are likely to do so again—however, those with psychological illnesses may be at a higher risk of becoming repeat offenders.

For many offenders, their underlying mental health issues are linked to the behavior that got them charged in the first place. By incarcerating them without also treating their illness, it is likely someone may offend again.

Reducing recidivism is more than just a numbers game. It is a matter of public safety. When one safely and effectively decreases the likelihood of repeat offenders, it can increase public safety. It also protects the life of defendants, who may be less likely to harm themselves with proper treatment.  

Put simply, mental health courts are about reducing recidivism. They will recommend treatments to improve underlying mental health issues while also addressing criminal charges.

2. Improve the Lives of People with Mental Illness            

One of the mental health court system’s primary goals is to help those struggling with serious mental illness.

Those with mental illnesses are often stigmatized by society and, within the criminal justice system, that stigma can be severe. Traditional courts and jails in Florida often lack the training and resources to deal with mentally ill inmates.

That makes mentally ill inmates one of the most vulnerable prison populations. To help, mental health courts divert those with serious issues away from the cycle of incarceration. These courts instead guide people towards effective treatment and rehabilitation.

Through this special court docket, people can gain valuable resources they often do not have, including life-saving treatment that they may not have access to otherwise.

3. Decrease the Financial Burden on the State

Mental health courts also seek to reduce the financial burden of the criminal justice system. The prison system costs the State of Florida, on average, about $120 million each year.

The costs associated with corrections and the courts are high, both for the state and the person facing charges. With these courts, however, the state can reduce court costs and prevent unnecessary incarcerations.

Who Qualifies for Mental Health Court?  

To participate in a mental health court, a person must:

  • Be facing criminal charges
  • Have a verified evaluation of having a severe mental illness

In Florida, entry into a pretrial mental health court program must be voluntary.

A health professional will administer a screening. This evaluation determines the presence of an illness and how receptive a person may be to treatment. Some of the most common diagnoses include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Substance use (abuse) disorders
  • And more

These are usually part of the Axis I disorders as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Most mental health courts accept various charge types, from misdemeanors to felonies. Some even allow violent crimes. Most jurisdictions in Florida vary on which types of charges they accept and how they handle each charge.   

Note that some courts in the state may bar participation in mental health court if the charges include sexual crimes or violent offenses.

What Are the Requirements for Participants?  

Once a participant enters a mental health court program, they must adhere to all of the requirements set by their individualized treatment plan. 

Some of the most common requirements for participants include:

  • Attending all assigned counseling sessions, whether group or individual sessions
  • Taking all prescribed medications  
  • Refraining from taking any medications, over the counter or otherwise, that are not part of the approved treatment plan

Compliance and Non-Compliance  

During this type of program, participants receive encouragement and support to comply with all requirements. They may have incentives, through verbal praise, fast tracks to complete court, etc.

The consequences of non-compliance are severe. Non-compliance may result in a prolonged court period or additional requirements, such as community service. Although most courts try to avoid it, some will use jail time as a sanction for non-compliance.

Who Runs Mental Health Courts?

Mental health courts a composite body of various legal and medical professionals. They include parole/probation officers, judges, attorneys, medical personnel, case managers, etc.

All of these groups work together to support participants during treatment and guide them through legal actions. A mental health court team will not only have adequate training but will work to serve participants to the best of their ability.

How to Start Exploring Your Legal Options

Are you under arrest and currently considering your legal options? Mental health court may be a viable consideration for you if you have a history of mental illness. It is a useful resource that helps navigate complicated legal waters and access essential treatments.  

Before you make any final decisions, consult with an attorney who can help protect your rights in a court of law, and understand all of the options available to you. If you would like to learn more about this type of program and what your next steps should be, get in touch with Mike G Law today.

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