Mental health courts provide a viable alternative to incarceration but require more funding to be successful.
A popular approach to mental health treatment across the country has been the establishment of mental health courts from coast to coast. There are hundreds of such courts available today, and the idea of these venues is simple enough – they aim to help people avoid prison by providing help for the mental health issues that accused individuals may be facing.
However, there are plenty of critics who will argue that these courts just aren’t making much of a difference. They serve a very small percentage of the people who are dealing with mental health problems and consume a significant number of resources at the same time.
Some of the strongest support for the concept of mental health courts comes from those who have benefitted from what they can provide. There are many success stories from people who were able to avoid going to jail time, and instead, receive the help they needed to get their lives back on track as a result of this legal angle. When the courts have access to the resources that they need, such as recovery programs, clinical treatment, housing, and more, individuals who go through this process are more likely to experience positive outcomes than when they are left on their own to find a path forward.
On the other side of the coin is the high barrier to entry that exists for many of these courts. There are plenty of exclusion criteria used, meaning people who could benefit from the program may not have access. This is due largely to the fact that these courts require specialized staff, resources, and programming, which can be costly.
Moreover, since mental health courts are often used as an alternative to going to jail, many individuals may feel pressured into making this choice simply because it is better than confinement. This is especially true as this route reduces the burden on the criminal justice system and, thus, members of the court system tend to advocate for this option. However, as part of the program, those admitted may be demanded to attend things like ongoing hearings and drug screenings, which may not be directly related to the mental health treatment they require and may prove too difficult given their condition.
The scope of mental health courts isn’t as wide as it probably needs to be to make a notable difference in the problems that are being seen across the country as a result of mental illness. With that said, the results being achieved do seem to be improving over time, suggesting that maybe the courts are improving – and will continue to improve – as more resources are allocated to them.
It may be the case that some adjustments to the way the courts operate could be needed to start to see a better return on the investment that they demand to continue operating. What does seem clear, however, is that such courts are not the only tool that will be needed to combat the mental health crisis. By expanding the available resources to many other areas, hopefully people will get help before being accused of a crime.