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Are Mental Health Courts Working?

Courtesy of University at Albany

University at Albany School of Criminal Justice Associate Professor Allison Redlich has been awarded a $99,371 NARSAD grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to examine the effectiveness of Mental Health Courts (MHCs) in alleviating the overrepresentation of people with diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression within the criminal justice system. 

MHCs are specialty courts for persons with serious mental illness charged with crimes that mandate treatment. The ultimate goal is to divert persons with mental illness from the criminal justice system into community-based treatment. Currently, the prevalence of persons with serious mental health problems in jail or prison is five times more than the general population. 

"There is consistent evidence that MHCs reduce arrests and number of days in jail, however the mechanisms by which MHCs produce these reductions are entirely unclear," said Redlich. "One presumption held by MHCs is that untreated mental illness causes criminal behavior, and that by treating the illness, criminality will decrease. However, this presumption lacks empirical support." 

In the proposed research, Redlich aims to determine the pathways to criminal justice success (e.g., new arrests, self-reported violence) with a focus on the roles, type and severity of mental illness and access to mental health treatment. Working with student researchers, Redlich will look beyond the simple receipt of treatment, and examine treatment types such as crisis/ER, outpatient or 24-hour residential care, as well as treatment motivation, satisfaction, and perceived barriers. 

Redlich and her students will try to determine these pathways by examining data on a sample of offenders with mental health problems diverted to a MHC vs. a comparable group who remained in the traditional criminal court system. The goal is to determine if MHC participation mediates the relationship between disorder, treatment, and criminal justice outcomes.


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