Mental Health Court bridges two disciplines, criminal law and mental health treatment, in a judicially, supervised coordinated systems approach that supports treatment services for mentally ill offenders. This therapeutic court approach seeks to protect public safety, break the cycle of repeated contact with the criminal justice system, and provide effective treatment options instead of the usual criminal sanctions for offenders with mental illness.
Improving access to appropriate services within the mental health system reduces the number of repetitive law enforcement contacts for individuals with mental illness, thus reducing the direct cost to the criminal justice system. The interdisciplinary court team includes representatives from the District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices, probation officers, and local community mental health providers, including Family & Children’s Services. Since Family & Children’s Services began providing services in the Tulsa Courthouse in 2006, staff have helped hundreds of mentally ill people stay out of jails and prisons.
Amber Dan is the senior program director for the agency’s substance abuse division. Dan said that extensive evaluation and assessment occur to determine if a person would be a good fit for one of the specialty courts programs. Therapists, case managers, and recovery support specialists meet with participants and address a variety of areas including mental health and substance abuse. Specialty court programs include mental health court and drug court and provide eligible, non-violent, felony offenders the opportunity to participate in a highly structured, court-supervised treatment program in lieu of incarceration.
Dan said, “When participants come to us for services, they present with a variety of needs. It is our goal to offer all of the resources necessary to address these needs and reduce barriers to success”. Clients are linked to the med clinic and meet with a psychiatrist … Our goal is to have them connected to as many services as possible within the first week of joining the program. Most patients, by the time they finish, will be in the program for about two years, Dan said. With mental health court, participants are able to remain in the program as long as needed depending on their needs and progress made.
If a mental health issue is found to be the reason why someone is committing crimes, then treatment will be more effective than prison, where there frequently is no treatment other than drug therapy. Mental health court programs require them to get the therapy they need, in addition to other necessities.
Participants, after a rigorous determination of their eligibility, complete their treatment, such as counseling, sobriety, medication and other interventions, before their record is expunged of their offenses for which they were charged. The goal is to, rather than sending them to prison, treat the underlying issues from which they suffer, and thus save the justice system time and money while helping them recover.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is not ideally suited for individuals with mental illness. In particular, there are individuals with serious mental illness who do not volunteer for treatment or are not compliant with the treatment they do receive, including medications. These individuals may be homeless, abuse drugs and/or alcohol and engage in minor criminal behavior. They often have a history of recurring hospitalization. Increasingly, those treatment resistant clients find themselves incarcerated in local jails and state prisons. Our program steps in and makes a difference in these cases.
“The ultimate goal is not to be punitive. The program’s goal is to look at what barriers our participants are struggling with and support them in those areas. If we are able to do that, then we have not only improved someone quality of life, but we have also taken one less offender out of the justice system.”
Click HERE to learn more about our Substance Abuse and Addiction Services, including our Mental Health Court services.