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Comparative Evaluation of Court-Based Responses to Offenders With Mental Illnesses

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2014
12 pages
In order to address various criticisms of evaluations of recent efforts by the justice system to improve services to offenders with serious mental illness (SMI), the current study used a mixed methods comparative evaluation of three established court-based programs that serve offenders with SMI, i.e., a mental health court, specialized probation, and standard probation.
The evaluation focused on each program's structure, operation, and effectiveness. The overall conclusion of this evaluation is that court-based alternatives to incarceration for offenders with SMI show some promise in improving recidivism outcomes; however, many challenges remain, including improving probation engagement and completion. Local programs that can develop a range of programs and service intensity will have better capacity to address the multiple needs of offenders with SMI. This evaluation found that approximately half of probationers with SMI in specialized programs failed to complete probation successfully; and unsuccessful termination was significantly associated with subsequent arrest and incarceration across programs. Although post-probation recidivism was common, frequency of arrest and length of incarceration post-program was significantly lower for probationers with SMI who completed any of the three programs successfully. Probation officers used a range of techniques in supervising SMI probationers. Relational factors in the interaction between probation officers and staff were apparently influential in probationers' receptiveness to probation supervision, participation in mental health treatment, and engagement in the process of behavioral change. Probationers' participation in the mental health court (MHC) reported higher quality relationships than standard probationers. The study was conducted in Cook County, IL. Data were collected from three sources: in-depth interviews with 26 probation officers and staff from the three programs; in-depth interviews with 98 SMI probationers and their completion of the Dual Role Relationship Inventory - Revised; and administrative data on 864 individuals who exited the three programs in 2008 or 2009. 2 tables

Date Published: December 1, 2014