Some states have “mental health courts” for mentally ill defendants who are accused on crimes. They sound a lot like veterans courts or drug treatment courts, so your initial reaction might be “great idea.” However, this new empirical study by E. Lea Johnston and Connor Flynn at the University of Florida will make you think twice. Consider this excerpt from the article’s abstract:
The findings are striking. First, analysis reveals that anticipated mental health court sentences typically exceed — by years — the supervisory periods that offenders would otherwise receive in a county criminal court. Second, mental health court participants with multiple convictions were significantly more likely to receive consecutive, as opposed to concurrent, sentences than those sentenced by traditional courts. Third, the analysis suggests the mental health court usually does not divert individuals from jail or prison sentences — a primary justification for these courts — but instead merely extends state control over individuals with serious mental illnesses. Fourth, key mental health court actors appear unaware of likely sentencing disparities or the high rate of participant failures. Thus, offenders choosing between mental health and traditional courts may go uninformed about these fundamental differences. The article concludes with suggestions for future research.