Mental health courts (MHCs) are emerging as a critical element in the nationwide effort to counter overcrowding in the US prison system and more adequately address the plight of offenders who are diagnosed with a mental illness. The goals of MHCs, an example of problem-solving courts, are to improve the quality of life for those involved in the criminal justice system, link clients to community treatment resources, and reduce recidivism and crime rates in a more cost-effective manner than within the traditional criminal justice process. This article provides a brief history of MHCs, including the rationale behind their initial implementation, an overview of their clientele and process, a review of the role social workers play, arguments for and against their broader introduction, and specific research recommendations to better ascertain their current and future effectiveness. Although MHCs are still too nascent to draw broad conclusions about their rates of efficacy, early results are promising.
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