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Junior Faculty Grant Program: Comparative Evaluation of Court-Based Responses to Offenders with Mental Illness

Award Information

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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2010, $440,437)

Mental health courts (MHCs) and specialized probation units have recently emerged as two of the most prevalent criminal justice/mental health collaborative models. These programs have developed rapidly in response to the high proportion of persons with serious mental illness (PSMI) in the criminal justice system, which is much higher than in the general population. Despite their growth, research on the effectiveness of MHCs and specialized probation in reducing criminal justice is scant, and experts in the field have called for more careful and thorough evaluation of such programs. Of particular note is that no published study had rigorously compared MHC and specialized probation on overall effectiveness, cost effectiveness, and program structure and operation. A better understanding of the relative effectiveness of MHCs and specialized probation units is critical to criminal justice policymakers and practitioners who are faced with the difficult task of using limited resources to manage the complex needs of PSMI who are tangled in the criminal justice system.

This study entails a comparative evaluation of three court-based models that respond to offenders with mental illnesses: mental health court (MHCs), specialized probation units, and traditional probation. The comparative evaluation will focus on three primary aims: 1) describe and compare the structure of each program; 2) examine and compare the operation of each program; and 3) examine and compare the effectiveness of each program in reducing criminal recidivism.
The study has the potential to add significantly to the knowledge base on court-based interventions for PSMI, which is a timely and important subject for criminal justice policy and practice. Mixed methods will be employed, using both qualitative exploratory methods as well as innovative quantitative methods including propensity score matching and optimal data analysis techniques. This study will be conducted in Cook County, IL, a large urban center with well-established MHC and specialized probation programs. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 15, 2010