SAN FRANCISCO– A study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry concludes that mental health courts reduce recidivism and violence among people with mental disorders. The study, Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence, was conducted by Dale E. McNeil, Ph.D. and Renee L. Binder, M.D., and focused exclusively on the criminal justice outcomes of the San Francisco Behavioral Health Court, where a substantial proportion of defendants are charged with felony offenses.

According to the report, the proportion of people entering U.S. jails who have severe mental disorders has been estimated to be between 6% and 15%, and the number of jail admissions involving people who have severe mental disorders has been estimated to be around 804,000 annually. People with mental disorders who are incarcerated tend to stay longer in jail than others charged with similar crimes and to cycle through the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and substance abuse treatment programs.

Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Johnson, who represents indigent mentally ill individuals in the Behavioral Health Court, states, “We are proud of the results of this study.  It confirms that treatment is not only the humane solution, but also one that benefits public safety and stops the revolving door of hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness.”

The Behavioral Health Court connects criminal defendants who have serious mental illness to treatment services, and endeavors to find dispositions to their criminal charges that take mental illness into consideration in order to decrease their chances of returning to the criminal justice system. To qualify for mental health court, defendants must be diagnosed as having a DSM-IV axis I mental disorder or, in some circumstances, developmental disabilities, and they must be amenable to treatment in the community mental health system. The court anticipates that relapses may occur, and it emphasizes positive reinforcement for successes rather than sanctions for failures. San Francisco instituted the Behavioral Health Court in 2003, which serves over 200 people each year.

The study can be found here: Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence.

The mission of the Public Defender’s Office is to provide vigorous, effective, competent and ethical legal representation to persons who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney. Established in 1921, the San Francisco Public Defender has a long, proud history of providing top-notch representation to its clients, and championing programs that help people turn their lives around.


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