Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Growth of Specialty Courts


By Amy Hinton

The most promising national policy trend in alternative corrections has been the emergence of specialty courts. These alternative courts -- such as mental health or drug courts -- route eligible offenders into the appropriate social service delivery system while maintaining accountability and protecting public safety.

More than 150 mental health courts in over 25 states are providing offenders with needed mental health services and supports under close court supervision. Significant cost savings could be generated in Alabama if specialty court models for offenders with mental health and addiction disorders were implemented across the state. Results so far from these specialty courts are extremely promising, particularly in reduced recidivism.

In 2008, the Los Angeles County Jail was essentially the nation’s largest mental institution, housing approximately 1,400 seriously mentally ill inmates. Mental health professionals, consumers and advocates would say that this is not a surprising revelation given the fact that so many mentally ill people end up in the criminal justice system.

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