In the early days of the mental health court movement, cases were largely confined to nonviolent misdemeanors but more courts have begun accepting felony cases in recent years. However, there has been little prospective research on whether involvement of felony defendants in mental health courts can affect later risk of violence.
So researchers led by Dale McNeil, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, compared 88 mental health court enrollees with 81 matched jail detainees who received treatment as usual. About 72 percent of each cohort had been arrested on felony charges.
Using both self-report and arrest records, they found that 25 percent of the court participants perpetrated violence in the follow-up year, compared with 42 percent of the comparison group (odds ratio = 0.39). A history of violence in the six months prior to entry was strongly associated with the likelihood of violence (odds ratio = 3.52).
“Targeting intensive services to the needs of offenders at higher risk of recidivism yields more demonstrably effective interventions in reducing recidivism,” concluded McNeil and colleagues. “[Mental health courts] considering inclusion of higher-risk individuals need to ensure availability of services to address their needs.”
For more in Psychiatric News about mental health courts, see “Program Prepares Defendants for Return to the Community.”
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