Letter to the Editor
MH Courts: Bad Idea?
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 3 page 30-30

An article in the December 1, 2000, issue describes the APA-supported federal bill to fund "mental health courts." These courts purport to address the problem of increasing numbers of mentally ill inmates in our jails and prisons. The plan is for these special courts to divert nonviolent mentally ill offenders from the criminal justice system to the mental health system so that they can get treatment instead of punishment.

These are laudable aims. Let me remind readers, however, that similar logic led to the splitting off of the juvenile courts from the adult courts to divert juvenile offenders to a more humane and therapeutic system. The result was neither humane nor therapeutic. Juveniles were often detained for months in special facilities, which were crowded and understaffed.

Furthermore, the constitutional protections that adult prisoners enjoy, such as due process, were not available to juvenile offenders, who sometimes spent more time incarcerated than they would have had they served their time in an adult prison. In short, the juvenile justice system was anything but just. This new attempt to have a parallel court system is likely to meet the same fate.

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