The Mental Health Courts Program funds projects that seek to mobilize communities to implement innovative, collaborative efforts that bring systemwide improvements to the way the needs of adults with mental disabilities or illnesses are addressed.
Mental health courts are a recent phenomenon and require collaboration and consideration from practitioners in both the criminal justice and mental health fields. Mental health courts typically involve judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other court personnel who have expressed an interest in or possess particular mental health expertise. The courts generally deal with nonviolent individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Today, more than 150 of these courts exist, and more are being planned.
The goal of BJA's Mental Health Court grant program is to decrease the frequency of clients' contacts with the criminal justice system by providing courts with resources to improve clients' social functioning and link them to employment, housing, treatment, and support services.
BJA funds projects that emphasize:
- Continuing judicial supervision—including periodic review—over preliminarily qualified individuals with mental illness, mental retardation, or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders who are charged with misdemeanors and/or nonviolent offenses.
- The coordinated delivery of services, which includes:
- Specialized training of criminal justice personnel to identify and address the unique needs of individuals who are mentally ill or intellectually disabled.
- Voluntary outpatient or inpatient mental health treatment, in the least restrictive manner appropriate as determined by the court, that carries with it the possibility of dismissal of charges or reduced sentencing on successful completion of treatment.
- Centralized case management involving the consolidation of cases that involve mentally ill or mentally disabled defendants (including probation violations) and the coordination of all mental health treatment plans and social services, including life skills training, placement, health care, and relapse prevention for each participant who requires such services.
- Continuing supervision of treatment plan compliance for a term not to exceed the maximum allowable sentence or probation for the charged or relevant offense and, to the extent practicable, continuity of psychiatric care at the end of the supervised period.
The Mental Health Courts Program was created by "America's Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project" (Public Law 106-515). Support also comes through the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-414).