Mental Health Courts

Overview

New York State’s Mental Health Courts (MHCs) seek to improve safety, court operations, and the well-being of justice-involved individuals living with mental illness by linking them with court-supervised, community-based treatment.  Eligible defendants are those living with a mental illness that is related to their current criminal justice involvement and whose participation in the MHC will not create an increased risk to public safety.

The impetus behind each MHC reflects local needs and priorities. For example, some MHCs originated in places where Drug Treatment Courts faced challenges presented by participants with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. Others MHCs were designed to help alleviate overcrowding in the local jail. Virtually all MHCs, however, have identified some combination of the following goals:

  • Improve public safety: Many people living with mental illness repeatedly cycle through the criminal justice system. Linking these individuals to community-based services and treatment is designed to reduce this cycle of recidivism.
  • Reduce length of time in jail or prison for offenders with mental illness: MHCs seek to reduce both the frequency of arrests and the duration of incarceration of justice-involved individuals living with mental illness for whom community-based treatment is an appropriate alternative to incarceration.
  • Use overtaxed criminal justice resources more efficiently: MHCs reduce the frequency of contacts between law enforcement and people living with mental illness, improve court operations in cases involving justice-involved people with mental illness, and minimizes strains on correctional facilities caused by incarcerating people living with mental illness.
  • Improve the courts' ability to identify, assess and monitor offenders with mental illness:By equipping courts with the tools necessary to perform meaningful assessments, identify appropriate treatment options, and make connections to the mental health system, MHCs provide judges with the means to make more informed decisions about cases involving justice-involved individuals living with mental illness.
  • Improve quality of life for people living with mental illness: MHCs seek to reverse the recent trend toward “criminalization” of mental illness, a term that describes society’s use of the criminal justice system to respond to behaviors associated with or caused by mental illness. Instead of incarcerating justice-involved individuals living with mental illness, MHCs help to connect them to community-based treatment and support services that encourage recovery.
  • Improve coordination between the mental health and criminal justice systems: In bringing together criminal justice and mental health stakeholders and involving many parties in the planning and implementation process, MHCs are catalysts for cross-training and systems improvement programs.

Contact Info

For further information on Problem-Solving Courts or if you would like to schedule a court visit, please contact the Office of Policy and Planning at ProblemSolving@nycourts.gov