Michigan legislators eye expanded use of mental health courts

October 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest

It didn’t take long for Michigan legislators to take notice of a state Supreme Court study examining the efficacy of mental health courts. Less than a month after the study’s release, the House unanimously passed a four-bill package (HB 4694-4697) that statutorily creates mental health courts, thus paving the way for judicial circuits across the state to operate them, Mlive.com reports.

The legislation would also establish guidelines for these courts; for example, violent offenders could not be served by them.

The three-year Supreme Court study, which evaluated 10 mental health courts, found that the recidivism rate of participants was 300 percent lower compared to similar offenders. Participants also had better work and employment outcomes. Mental health courts offer treatment programs to offenders with severe mental illnesses as an alternative to lengthy jail or prison terms.

According to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, 48 percent of Michigan’s population resides in a jurisdiction with a mental health court — same as the U.S. average. In the Midwest, two states are above the national average: Illinois (78 percent, fifth-highest rate in the nation) and Ohio (63 percent). In the region’s eight other states, the availability of mental health courts falls below the national average.