In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mental Health Courts

  • Introduction
  • Critiques of Mental Health Court Programs

Criminology Mental Health Courts
Jason Matejkowski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0271


Mental health courts (MHCs) are specialized dockets for defendants with mental illnesses that seek the adjudication of criminal charges and municipal code violations by using a problem-solving model. Modeled after drug treatment courts, MHCs provide an alternative to incarceration for individuals with mental illness charged with criminal offenses. Mental health courts are but one of an array of problem-solving courts (PSCs) that have proliferated over the past three decades (e.g., drug courts, veterans courts, co-occurring disorder courts) and, as such, share come commonalities with these other PSCs. The populations served by these PSCs often overlap with MHCs as do many of the courts’ approaches (e.g., the use of incentives and sanctions to motivate clients to engage in treatment and support services). This entry will focus on MHCs but, when necessary, also include references pertaining to PSCs. Although MHCs may differ somewhat in structure and function by jurisdiction, this entry begins with resources (including reports, theoretical manuscripts, and empirical studies) identifying counts, structural components, and operational approaches common to MHCs. The entry then highlights the peer-reviewed literature on MHC outcomes, including program completion, recidivism, cost analysis, as well as alternative outcomes. Given the relative paucity of literature on juvenile MHCs, this entry focuses primarily on adult MHCs. Literature on juvenile MHCs is covered near the end of this entry. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of published research and commentary on MHCs pertains to MHCs that operate in the United States. This entry reflects that current state of the research. Finally, the entry concludes with published critiques of the MHC model.

Prevalence, Structure and Processes, and Theoretical Approaches

Oftentimes, information on the prevalence, structure, and approaches of MHCs is needed. For example, scholars conducting research on MHCs may want to identify the number of MHCs currently in operation to help convey the importance of their research. Additionally, professionals who are engaged in planning, development, and evaluation of MHCs may need resources to guide these activities. The sections on Prevalence, Structure and Processes, and Theoretical Approach may assist with such efforts.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.