June 24, 2004

Separate courts for mentally ill focus on rehab

A group in Rockland, NY composed of mental health advocates, law enforcement officials, and judges is seeking to establish a special criminal court to try offenders with mental disorders.

According to one mental health official, the goals of such a court would include keeping the accused from reoffending, and aiding his/her treatment and recovery. Supporters point out that our nation's prisons are currently overflowing with the mentally ill, and that people who are sick need and deserve treatment, not jail time.

Among the issues to be addressed before such a court becomes a reality is what kind of cases would be tried there, and how the institution would be funded.

Says Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno concerning what kind of cases are appropriate for a mental illness courtroom, "I'm willing to look at it in terms of misdemeanors [such as petty larceny, disorderly conduct, and property damage]. I'm not willing to look at it in terms of felonies, especially violent felonies. ... Those cases are too serious. I don't believe this program is appropriate for violent felons and career criminals."

Rockland officials have many models to choose from - currently there are about 90 mental-health courts across the country, either functioning or in planning stages.

The City of Seattle Municipal Court system was one of the forerunners in establishing a separate mental health court facility. Based on a preliminary evaluation report provided by the Municipal Courts, a mental health court is successful in reducing number of bookings for mentally ill offenders (although the jail time was increased for repeated offenders), as well as increasing length and intensity of treatment (as compared to a normal municipal court). To review the full evaluation report, please refer to www.cityofseattle.net/courts/ and search for "Mental Health Court Evaluation Report"

Canada currently has two provinces with separate court systems for mentally ill offenders; Manitoba will soon follow suit. The project is divided into phases, with the first phase aimed at offenders with fetal-alcohol syndrome, and the second phase focused on adults with schizophrenia. The overseeing Attorney General Gord Mackintosh asserted that one of the main goals of the court system will be ensuring proper diagnosis of offenders. (Source: CP, Western General News, "Manitoba will soon be the third Canadian province with a separate court system for the mentally ill or intellectually challenged" June 22, 2004).

For more information, please see the full-text news article of "Advocates seek court for mentally ill defendants" (The Journal News, June 21 2004).

To learn more about the issue of the mentally ill in prisons, and current initiatives to help relieve the problem, please see "Behind Bars: American Prisons - The Mentally Ill Offender at http://forensicpsychresearch.freewebsitehosting.com. The research is provided by a Forensic Psychology Intern/Human Services Support Specialist.


I think mental ill person should be first put in a mental ward, to find the medicine to care for his mental problems, a mental hospital should be the place for people who are currently on medication and seeing a psychiatrist. So that the proper medication can be giving for the crime that may have happen.

Posted by: Jerry McNair at August 17, 2004 08:55 PM

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