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Mental Health Courts Are Popular But Effectiveness Is Still Unproven
Kaiser Health News

Mental health courts are popular in many communities, and it’s easy to understand why. Rather than sending someone who’s mentally ill to an overcrowded jail that is poorly equipped to manage his condition, mental health courts offer treatment and help with housing and other social services. The community saves on the cost of locking someone up and offenders get support to stay healthy and may have their charges expunged. Everybody wins, right?

The reality is more complex. Mental health courts have been in existence since the 1990s, modeled after drug courts that offer an alternative for people with substance-abuse problems who are charged with drug-related crimes. After initially accepting only those charged with misdemeanor crimes such as vandalism or trespassing, many of the roughly 350 mental health courts nationwide now accept people charged with some felonies such as robbery, and even violent crimes in some cases.