Critical Issues - Court Diversion Programs

From: Psychiatric Services, March 1996, Vol.47 No. 3

Court Intervention to Address the Mental Health Needs of Mentally Ill Offenders

H. Richard Lamb, M.D.
Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
Cynthia Reston-Parham, Ph.D.

Objective: The authors examined the outcomes of mental health consultation provided to a municipal court and the court's resulting interventions for mentally ill persons who committed minor crimes. One aim of the consultation program was to avoid criminalization of mentally ill people who committed minor offenses. Methods: Clinical and forensic records of 96 persons charged with misdemeanors and referred to a clinical psychologist court consultant for evaluation were studied. Determination of good versus poor outcome during a one-year follow-up period was based on clients' status during the year after the court's disposition. Poor outcome was defined as the occurrence of one or more of four events during the follow-up year: psychiatric hospitalization, arrest, significant physical violence against persons, and homelessness. Results: Fifty- six defendants (58 percent) .vere mandated to receive judicially monitored mental health treatment, as recommended by the psychologist court consultant, and 33 of thern (59 percent) had a good one-year outcome. The relationship was statistically significant. Conclusions: Nonclinicians in the criminal justice system should have psychiatric assistance in making appropriate dispositions for mentally ill persons. If the judge is considering mental health treatment as a condition for eliminating or reducing punishment, then, to the extent justified by the law and the nature of the offense, the judge should both mandate and monitor the treatment on an ongoing basis.

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