What is the role of mental health courts in helping individuals with serious mental illness who interface with the criminal justice system?

Mental health courts were developed to help criminal defendants who have a mental illness that is a significant contributing factor to their arrest. These diversion programs are characterized by three key components. Screening involves the identification of defendants who are suspected of having a mental illness. Assessment involves the evaluation of identified defendants by a mental health professional. The last component involves court diversion staff negotiating with prosecutors, defense attorneys, the courts and community-based mental health providers to work towards having charges reduced or waived.

Mental health courts vary across states and regions, and are available everywhere. You can check with local mental health advocacy and support organizations, such as NAMI or MHA to find out what options are available in your area.

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