American Journal of Psychiatry: S.F. Behavioral Courts Work

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A years-in-the-making study of San Francisco’s Behavioral Courts published in the current edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry claims that “a mental health court can reduce recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system.”

In plain English, the experts think the system — profiled intimately last month by the S.F. Weekly’s Eliza Strickland — is working.

“These results support the effectiveness of a mental health court in reducing the involvement of persons with mental disorders in the criminal justice system,” reads the conclusion of the study, authored by Dale E. McNiel and Renée L. Binder.

“Mental health court participants showed a longer time without any new charges or new charges for violent crimes compared with similar individuals who did not participate in the program.”

You can read the full text of this study here — but, considering this report tosses around terms like “Propensity-weighted Cox regression analysis” it is certainly not intended for the layman and is also not free. You can, for free, read the abstract here.

The study, undertaken between Jan. 14 of 2003 and Nov. 19 of the next year, tracked a total of 8,325 adults who were diagnosed as mentally ill upon being incarcerated in San Francisco. Of this pool, 172 entered mental health court.

“At 18 months, the likelihood of mental health court participants being charged with any new crimes was about 26% lower than that of comparable individuals who received treatment as usual [i.e. prison], and the likelihood of mental health court participants being charged with new violent crimes was 55% lower than that of individuals who received treatment as usual," reads the report’s money shot.

“By 18 months, the risk of mental health court graduates being charged with any new offense was about 34 out of 100, compared with about 56 out of 100 for comparable persons who received treatment as usual, and the risk of mental health court graduates being charged with a new violent crime was about half that of the treatment as usual group (6 out of 100 compared with 13 out of 100).”

The study was, obviously, music to the ears of Behavioral Court advocates.

“We are proud of the results of this study,” said Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Johnson.

“It confirms that treatment is not only the humane solution but one that benefits public safety and stops the revolving door of hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness.”

— Joe Eskenazi

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