California implemented its first mental health court in 1999. According to a fact sheet produced by the Mental Health Courts of California, there are two types of mental health courts: one that strives to prevent the jailing of mentally ill offenders and one that secures individuals' release from jail for appropriate treatment and community services. You can see from the list on pages 85 to 86 of this 2011 report from the Task Force for Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues report funded by the Judicial Council of California, that adult and juvenile mental health courts are in wide use across the state.
“Mental health courts are established to make more effective use of limited criminal justice and mental health resources, to connect individuals to treatment and other social services in the community, to improve outcomes for offenders with mental illness in the criminal justice system, to respond to public safety concerns, and to address jail overcrowding and the disproportionate number of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.”
Some principles of mental health courts:
- Participation is voluntary.
- Early intervention is essential. Screening and referrals occur as soon as possible after arrest.
- A multidisciplinary approach is used: involvement of justice system representatives, mental health providers, psychiatrists, and other community support systems.
- There is a focus on accountability and monitoring of each participant’s performance.
- A court judge is the center of treatment and supervision process.
Orange County Mental Health Courts
In Orange County, where the WIT (Whatever It Takes) program is located, mental health courts have been in use since 2006. According to Orange County's Superior Court, “collaborative courts increase public safety and save money by stopping the revolving door of incarceration and re-arrest for many offenders. They also provide profound human and social benefits.”
In 2013, Orange County Mental Health Courts:
- Saved 4,778 jail and prison bed days, resulting in a cost savings of $649,426.
- Since inception, the mental health court programs have saved nearly $7,380,000 in jail and prison bed costs.