Objective: Relatively few studies have evaluated whether mental health courts reduce criminal recidivism. This study evaluated an established court and followed for two years defendants who exited the program in the court's fifth year of operation.
Methods: Court administrative data and state arrest records for 99 defendants who exited a mental health court in 2005 were used to determine whether the proportion arrested and number of arrests were lower in the two years after court exit than in the two years before court entry and whether the reduction was greater for those who completed the court process. Logistic regression was used to examine completion's effect on recidivism with controls for other predictors. Survival analysis was used to discern how long court effects were sustained after exit.
Results: Defendants had significantly reduced recidivism from precourt entry to postcourt exit. Completers (N=60) and those ejected from the program (N=31) had fewer rearrests, but completers were much less likely to be rearrested (odds ratio=.12), even with confounds controlled for, and they had a much longer period before rearrest.
Conclusions: This study adds to the evidence that mental health courts can reduce criminal recidivism among offenders with mental illness and shows that this effect was sustained for two years, even though defendants were no longer being monitored by the court or receiving court-mandated treatment. The results show that the mental health court program studied had a greater impact on defendants who completed the program than on defendants who did not.