There are half a million people with mental illness who are imprisoned at any single time. Some of these individuals might not have had the due process they deserved and could be serving a sentence that’s not supposed to be theirs. That is why mental health courts were developed – to link offenders to long-term treatment in order to address their special needs and resolve public safety concerns.
While there are numerous benefits to mental health courts, there are also a few downsides, and so it is important to properly consider all aspects in order to understand whether this is a community feature we actually need.
Pros of Mental Health Courts
1. Reduce Recidivism of Offenders.
Recent studies have shown that placing a person in a mental health setting instead of a prison reduces the risk of them falling back into crime. This is because mental health patients have different needs that cannot be addressed in the prison setting. Placing offenders with mental conditions offers them a better chance at addressing the reasons behind the offense, thus reducing their risk of falling back into crime.
2. Improve Mental Health Outcomes And Recovery.
As previously mentioned, mental health offenders have specific needs that can’t be appropriately satisfied or addressed within prisons and correctional facilities. Ultimately, the goal with a mental patient should be to manage their condition with the right treatment and medication to improve their capacity to think and act with better judgment not only for themselves, but for the safety of the community.
3. Reduce Costs of Incarceration.
Sending an offender to prison costs thousands of taxpayers’ money, but when a person is instead redirected to a mental health facility or community-based treatment, the expenses and costs are greatly reduced.
Cons of Mental Health Courts
1. Unavailability of Mental Health Services and Facilities.
There are a lot of mentally ill patients that do not get the attention and service they need because of the lack of facilities. That means offenders who are redirected to facilities might not find timely service as there is a current lack of treatment programs available.
2. Mismatch Between Mandated Length of Sentencing and Mental Needs.
Crimes are usually sentenced according to the gravity or severity of the act. However, the same should not be done for mental health sentencing. Some mental patients need less time in treatment facilities, and so sentencing should follow a different system. A more serious crime shouldn’t necessarily translate to a longer sentence.
3. Automatically Guilty.
To be able to avail of the mental health treatment program, offenders must voluntarily accept. That means they automatically plead guilty to an accusation that might not actually be true.