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Assessing the Effectiveness of Juvenile Mental Health Courts as a Public Safety Strategy

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2009, $700,200)

The purpose of this study is 'Improving the Criminal Justice System: Prosecution and Defense' by assessing the impact of an innovative and new alternative to case processing and disposition of justice-involved youth who have mental health disorders. Specifically, the grantee will examine the impact of Juvenile Mental Health Courts on public safety, treatment and service involvement, and justice outcomes. The judges who have initiated Juvenile Mental Health Courts, as well as specialty or 'problem solving' courts, recognize a failure of typical case processing in meeting goals of public safety and community justice with selected offender populations. The rapid expansion of specialty courts underscores the initiative of justice professionals to redefine and rethink how to best use case processing and dispositional alternatives to reach public safety goals and meet the needs of juvenile offenders with mental health disorders. Despite the considerable enthusiasm there is almost no empirical data on their effectiveness. In this study, the research team will collaborate with the juvenile justice professionals in two study sites to conduct the first systematic examination of the impact of juvenile mental health courts.

The goal of this study is to conduct the first-ever rigorous evaluation of juvenile mental health courts and their impact on the processing, treatment, and outcomes of justice-involved youth. By comparing a juvenile mental health court (JMHC) sample in two courts with a 'treatment as usual' (JTAU) sample in each site, the study will provide critical data on how this emerging and innovative case processing affects public safety and youth outcomes. As such, the study will collect data in three areas necessary for understanding juvenile mental health courts and their impact: (1) the youth they serve, (2) the interventions they provide, and (3) the outcomes they produce.

Methodology: quasi-experimental design assessing characteristics of youth served by two juvenile mental health courts and the specific interventions provided by the programs. Comparison groups will be drawn from the pool of justice-involved youth at each site not referred for participation in the juvenile mental health court. The research team will also interview key informants at each site about the JMHC goals, structure, and processes.


Date Created: September 14, 2009