Mental health court to reduce crime

Published 12:36 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2010

There has been publicity regarding the new mental health court for Shelby County recently. You may recall that this is a product of Leadership Shelby County and is in the early stages of implementation.

A primary goal of the court is to reduce recidivism among criminal defendants suffering from a diagnosed serious mental illness. By supervising these defendants and making sure they stay in treatment and on their prescribed medications, studies have shown that they commit fewer crimes.

This, of course, benefits our community because if there are fewer crimes, there are fewer victims of crime and there are fewer costs of prosecuting and incarcerating defendants.

Shelby County is not the first to have a mental health court. There are more than 150 throughout the country, and each one is designed for a particular jurisdiction, so comparing results is difficult.

With that being said, there are studies that confirm the benefits to the community and the participants of a mental health court. In a 2006 study from North Carolina, the re-arrest rate for mental health court participants was roughly half of the re-arrest rate of defendants with mental illness who did not participate in mental health court.

A 2005 study of Broward County, Florida mental health court participants showed a significant reduction in re-arrests.

Again, a goal of Shelby County’s mental health court is to reduce crime in our county by supervising criminal defendants who suffer from a serious mental illness. The defendant will know that failure to participate and cooperate with the treatment team will result in incarceration for the charged offense.

In addition to the reduced recidivism rate, we expect our mental health court to be a more effective means of connecting participants with treatment alternatives than the traditional court system or jail. This goal is supported by studies from Broward County, Florida and Clark County, Washington. We anticipate mental health court participants to be more likely to have a better quality of life and to be more likely to become productive citizens of our community.

Representatives of law enforcement, prosecution, defense, the courts and mental health treatment providers are pulling together to make Shelby County’s mental health court a success.