Mental health courts are starting to appear in many areas in the USA, and in other parts of North America as well, but what are these courts and what do they have to do with mental disorders? Many people who get caught up in the legal system have serious mental health issues, and these issues are not addressed in the jails and prisons. Mental health courts offer sentencing flexibility which ensures that the individual received needed mental health treatment instead of simply being incarcerated. Evidence has shown that without treatment mental illness typically becomes more severe. Incarceration is not the answer because in most settings the best possible treatment for mental health issues are not offered. Mental health courts were started to try and address the needs of mentally ill individuals who enter the criminal justice system.
Mental health courts offer diversion from the usual criminal justice system and sentencing options when an individual defendant has one or more mental disorders and the court feels that jail or prison would not be in the best interests of justice. A lack of mental health treatment opportunities for many people can lead to criminal acts being committed, and the individual involved needs help with mental illness. Mental health courts can be very effective at providing treatment options and integrating the mentally ill person back into the community rather than simply locking them up and failing to provide treatment for their mental disorders. These special courts are not available in all areas but many larger cities have implemented them in order to reduce the number of people incarcerated and provide mental health treatment to those who need it.