Better Served by Treatment than Incarceration
Access to mental health treatment is a key component of community wellness, and yet too many people face obstacles in getting the services they need. An unconscionable number of people with serious mental illness—as high as 40 percent—will come into contact with the criminal legal system. And when they do, they will stay four to eight times longer in jail or prison than someone without a mental illness facing the exact same charge.
The Center for Court Innovation stands with advocates who believe the vast majority are better served by treatment in the community than incarceration. That is why we have spearheaded the development of alternative-to-incarceration programs in New York and across the country.
When we helped launch the Brooklyn Mental Health Court 20 years ago, it was one of the first courts in the country to handle felony-level charges, including violent felony charges, for those diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. Today, the court has successfully provided over 1,200 participants with treatment in the community instead of incarceration and serves as a model as it continues to innovate—for instance, working with a wider range of participants, including those with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Such diversion programs—like our Brooklyn Mental Health Court, Manhattan Felony Alternative-to-Incarceration Court, and the pre-plea mental health diversion program we helped develop in Los Angeles—strengthen the legal system’s ability to identify, assess, and monitor individual participants; create linkages between the legal and mental health systems; and improve public safety by ensuring that participants receive high-quality, community-based services.
We also believe it’s essential to support people who are awaiting trial. Supervised Release Programs exist to ensure people make their court dates, but our staff goes beyond this to co-create solutions that address other challenges participants may be facing.
Since most service referrals made are not mandated, we prioritize building relationships and making every check-in meaningful so that participants are more likely to choose to engage in the wide range of services available to them. In many instances, participants continue with services after their cases are resolved, demonstrating that treating people with humanity and support promotes safety and more positive outcomes.