Project director Lucille Jackson confers with a client in court.
Brooklyn Mental Health Court
The Brooklyn Mental Health Court is a specialized court part that seeks to craft a meaningful response to the problems posed by defendants with mental illness in the criminal justice system. Addressing both the treatment needs of defendants with mental illness and the public safety concerns of the community, the Mental Health Court uses the authority of the court to link defendants with serious and persistent mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) who would ordinarily be jail- or prison-bound to long-term treatment as an alternative to incarceration. The Court aims to improve the court system’s ability to identify, assess, evaluate and monitor offenders with mental illness, create effective linkages between the criminal justice and mental health systems, and improve public safety by ensuring that participants receive high quality community-based services.
How It Works
Better Information: An on-site clinical team performs detailed psycho-social assessments of each defendant referred to the Mental Health Court. This information is used in two ways. First, it allows the judge to make more informed decisions about defendants, enabling him to gauge the nature of defendants' illnesses—and the risks they pose to public safety—in a much more nuanced way. Second, the information is used to craft individualized treatment plans for each defendant, matching them to appropriate counseling and service programs.
Judicial Monitoring: Every defendant in the Mental Health Court is required to return to Court regularly to meet with case managers and appear before the judge to report on progress in treatment. This keeps the judge engaged with the defendant for the life of the case and underlines for the defendant the seriousness of the process.
Accountability: The Court uses a broad array of graduated rewards and sanctions to respond to progress and setbacks in treatment, coordinating its responses with treatment providers to help motivate defendants to comply with their individualized treatment plans. Where appropriate, treatment plans are modified to help defendants achieve stability. Regular monitoring of progress in treatment also holds service providers accountable to the judge. Defendants who comply with all treatment mandates have their criminal charges dismissed or reduced.
Coordinated Services: In addition to grappling with mental health issues, many defendants also must confront homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and serious health problems. Accordingly, the Mental Health Court works with a broad network of government and not-for-profit service providers to address these interrelated issues.
The Center's Brooklyn Mental Health Court, which offers long-term treatment to mentally-ill individuals instead of incarceration, has reduced both hospitalizations and re-arrests among participants.
The Brooklyn Mental Health Court has been developed as a joint project of the New York State Unified Court System, the New York State Office of Mental Health, and the Center for Court Innovation. Other government and nonprofit partners involved in planning the Mental Health Court include the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defenders Service and numerous representatives of the mental health treatment community. The New York Community Trust, the United Hospital Fund and the Ittleson Foundation have also provided support for this project.