A new study from Florida Institute of Technology has found that criminal defendants who graduated from mental health court demonstrated substantially reduced re-arrest rates a full three years following their release, the longest period of post-program behavior examined in a published study involving mental health courts and the clearest indicator yet of the potential for diversionary programs to ease the burden on the nation’s overcrowded prison system.
Additionally, the study from Florida Tech’s Julie Costopoulos, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Psychology, and doctoral student Bethany Wellman found that for those who participated in mental health court, prior criminal behavior, no matter how serious, was not an indicator of post-release recidivism.
And even when they re-offended after failing to complete the full complement of treatment and support, participants committed less serious crimes in doing so, the study found, with the severity of offenses declining the longer they had remained in the mental health court.
“Jail doesn’t stop crimes by the mentally ill, treatment does. Yet jails and prisons are now the largest mental health treatment facilities in the United States,” Costopoulos said. “We know mental health court not only reduces jail overcrowding, it also helps participants find support to live independently and successfully while getting treatment. And now, with our study, we have shown that mental health courts also reduce arrests by the mentally ill, regardless of how much they have offended in the past.”