Mental Health Courts


Mental Health Court Programs have the following essential characteristics:

  1. The integration of mental illness treatment services and mental retardation services in the processing of cases in the judicial system;
  2. The use of a nonadversarial approach involving prosecutors and defense attorneys to promote public safety and to protect the due process rights of program participants;
  3. Early identification and prompt placement of eligible participants in the program;
  4. Access to mental illness treatment services and mental retardation services;
  5. Ongoing judicial interaction with program participants;
  6. Diversion of potentially mentally ill or mentally retarded defendants to needed services as an alternative to subjecting those defendants to the criminal justice system;
  7. Monitoring and evaluation of program goals and effectiveness;
  8. Continuing interdisciplinary education to promote effective program planning, implementation, and operations; and
  9. Development of partnerships with public agencies and community organizations, including local mental retardation authorities.

Essential Element #1

Planning and Administration
A broad-based group of stakeholders representing the criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and related systems and the community guides the planning and administration of the court.

Essential Element #2

Target Population
Eligibility criteria address public safety and consider a community’s treatment capacity, in addition to the availability of alternatives to pretrial detention for defendants with mental illnesses. Eligibility criteria also take into account the relationship between mental illness and a defendant’s offenses, while allowing the individual circumstances of each case to be considered

Essential Element #3

Timely Participant Identification and Linkage to Services
Participants are identified, referred, and accepted into mental health courts, and then linked to community-based service providers as quickly as possible.

Essential Element #4

Terms of Participation
Terms of participation are clear, promote public safety, facilitate the defendant’s engagement in treatment, are individualized to correspond to the level of risk that the defendant presents to the community, and provide for positive legal outcomes for those individuals who successfully complete the program.

Essential Element #5

Informed Choice
Defendants fully understand the program requirements before agreeing to participate in a mental health court. They are provided legal counsel to inform this decision and subsequent decisions about program involvement. Procedures exist in the mental health court to address, in a timely fashion, concerns about a defendant’s competency whenever they arise.

Essential Element #6

Treatment Supports and Services
Mental health courts connect participants to comprehensive and individualized treatment supports and services in the community. They strive to use-and increase the availability of – treatment and services that are evidence-based.

Essential Element #7

Health and legal information should be shared in a way that protects potential participants’ confidentiality rights as mental health consumers and their constitutional rights as defendants. Information gathered as part of the participants’ court-ordered treatment program or services should be safeguarded in the event that participants are returned to traditional court processing.

Essential Element #8

Court Team
A team of criminal justice and mental health staff and service and treatment providers receives special, ongoing training and helps mental health court participants achieve treatment and criminal justice goals by regularly reviewing and revising the court process.

Essential Element #9

Monitoring Adherence to Court Requirements
Criminal justice and mental health staff collaboratively monitor participants’ adherence to court conditions, offer individualized graduated incentives and sanctions, and modify treatment as necessary to promote public safety and participants’ recovery.

Essential Element #10

Data are collected and analyzed to demonstrate the impact of the mental health court, its performance is assessed periodically (and procedure are modified accordingly), court processes are institutionalized, and support for the court in the community is cultivated and expanded.