Despite Controversy, Mental Health Courts Increase
Excerpt from an AP story in the Mississippi Sun-Herald:
Even as the courts have ballooned from only a handful a decade ago to more than 250, experts and lawmakers remain divided on whether they are the most appropriate way to manage mentally ill people who land in trouble with the law.
Some mental health advocates fear the courts lead to greater criminalization and stigma for the mentally ill. They don't like that the courts use criminal sanctions to coerce treatment or that criminal offenders can jump the line to get community-based treatment before others.
"Despite good intentions, the mental health courts don't address the root problem, which is getting services to people before crisis hits," said Andrew Penn, a staff attorney for the Washington-based Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. "You shouldn't have to wait until you wind up in court to get those services."
Other groups, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, support the courts as a way to help the mentally ill instead of punishing them while increasing public safety and cutting down on the money needed to incarcerate the same offenders over and over.