Recidivism Following Mental Health Court Exit: Between and Within-Group Comparisons

New research from North Carolina State University finds that mental health courts are effective at reducing repeat offending, and limiting related jail time, for people with mental health problems — especially those who also have substance use problems.

For their study, researchers evaluated 97 people in Minnesota who had mental health problems and had committed misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, ranging from shoplifting to threatening someone. Fifty-seven of the people went through a Mental health court (MHC), while the other 40 went through the conventional court system.

Offenders that went through normal courts spent 1.6 times more days in jail for repeat offenses than offenders who went through an MHC. And the effect was much stronger when researchers looked at those offenders who went through an MHC and actually completed their MHC treatment programs.

“Offenders who went through traditional courts had 1.8 times more charges and spent almost five times more days in jail for repeat offenses, when compared to offenders who graduated from the MHC after completing their terms of participation,” says Evan Lowder, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper.

The researchers also found that offenders who participated in the MHC who also had substance use problems had a 4.76 times greater decrease in jail time from repeat offending when compared to offenders without substance use problems who participated in the MHC.

“MHCs appear to be especially effective at reducing recidivism for offenders with mental health and co-occurring substance use problems,” Lowder says.

“This tells us that MHCs are effective at reducing repeat offenses, which reduces the burden on law enforcement, the judicial system and — ultimately — the taxpayer,” says Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research.

Population of focus: Individuals with mental health problems presenting to court for misdemeanors

Links to resource:

Date: 2015

Journal: Law and Human Behavior