Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New idea: mental health courts without the crime

In San Francisco behavioral health courts have been successful in compelling treatment for people with mental illnesses who would otherwise have been in jail or prison. The court allows that when someone with a severe mental illness commits a crime, they are diverted to behavioral health court and ordered to maintain treatment. Failure to maintain treatment sends the person back to criminal court and likely to jail or prison.

The model of connecting the services to the court does work," said Kathleen Connolly Lacey, program director of Citywide. "There has to be a benefit to people to participate. They work harder than they would if they got straight probation."

Here’s the problem. Right now, in San Francisco, court-ordered treatment is only offered AFTER someone commits a crime.

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said it's one more example of the city offering services to homeless people and the mentally ill only after they become part of the criminal justice system. She and other advocates wonder why these well-regarded services aren't as readily available to mentally ill homeless people outside the courts.

Mayor Newsom: Why are you requiring your citizens with severe mental illnesses to commit a crime before being treated?

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