Date of Conferral







Barbara DeVelasco


In recent years, the percentage of incarcerated individuals with mental illness has dramatically increased. It is very hard to provide treatment and care for these defendants in jails or prisons. Currently, there are more mentally ill individuals incarcerated than in psychiatric hospitals. Furthermore, as budget cuts are being decided, urban and rural communities in America are looking at ways to help the mentally ill by initiating a mental health court (MHC) or continuing to fund an already existing MHC. Guided by the therapeutic jurisprudence theory, the purpose of this study was to elicit the opinions from MHC professionals regarding the strengths and weaknesses of MHCs in addressing the needs of defendants, their victims, and the communities in which they live, in order to gain the recommendations for program improvement from the professionals who have knowledge of the impact of public safety, recidivism rates, and quality of life for mentally ill defendants. Study participants answered questions about several aspects of MHCs, such as length of incarceration, application of the therapeutic jurisprudence theory, treatment planning, and institutional budget constraints. The interviews were coded using NVivo, looking for common words, statements, and themes across responses. Mental health courts have been shown to save thousands of dollars to local community budgets, provide professional support and complete the judicial system requirements. This study furthers social change by supporting the rationale for MHCs: to help prevent defendants with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system from reoffending, thereby improving community safety and reducing justice system costs over the long term.