The Connection Between Mental Health and Crime
Experts have long told us there is a direct connection between mental illness and crime. In California, approximately 45 percent of all prisoners suffer from a mental illness. Mentally ill offenders are given longer sentences, on average, than other offenders across the board. Mentally ill prisoners are three times more likely to be denied relief from a life sentence than their non-mentally ill counterparts.
Left untreated, mentally ill inmates often become violent, leading to additional criminal charges and yet another prison sentence.
California’s Mental Health Courts
California currently has 40 mental health courts located throughout 27 counties. Less than half of California’s counties have a mental health court.
Mental health courts benefit both society and offenders. In one California county, the mental health court program resulted in $20 million in savings in a single year.
The key objective of a mental health court is to prevent the jailing of offenders with mental illness by diverting them “to appropriate community services or to significantly reduce time spent incarcerated.”
How Does Mental Health Court Work?
Each mental health court is an autonomous court, meaning that the rules for eligibility will vary slightly. However, there are some general guidelines used by most mental health courts to determine who qualifies, including:
- The offender must have been diagnosed with an Axis I mental health disorder
- The offender must be considered suitable for treatment
- The offender must agree to treatment
- Certain violent and/or sex crimes are ineligible
In addition, it is important to keep in mind that:
- Participation in a mental health court is voluntary
- The District Attorney and judge must approve
- Length varies but usually at least a year
- Some participants require inpatient treatment
- Group and individual counseling is provided
- Getting participants on appropriate medication is a primary objective
- Job and/or life skills may be taught
- Upon completion the offender is referred back to the original court
- Successful completion results in dismissal of original charges