What To Do With Mentally Ill Offenders? A Case Study of a Small Urban County in New Hampshire's Attempt to Create a Mental Health Court

Peter Stevenson, Keene State College
Therese Seibert, Keene State College

For many mentally ill, entry into the criminal justice system represents the stop of last resort, as a local mental health advocacy group in southwestern New Hampshire contends. This group consits of mental health professionals, advocates, attorneys, and law enforcement officials. Group members argue that mentally ill offenders in their community are not receiving mental health support throughout the criminal justice process and are ultimately "warehoused" in state and county correctional facilities. After studying a mental health court system in large northwestern metropolitan area, several members called for a mental health court in their small city. Mental health courts have been tried, with varied results, in urban settings but do not exist, to our knowledge, in smaller communities. This paper describes process by which community leaders in this small community are developing a mental health court, noting the problems that have emerged as they attempted to model this court after those established in large metropolitan areas. Additionally, it describes how they modified previous models of mental health courts to reflect the specific needs of the community. Finally, it speculates upon the mental health ability to reduce recidivism among the mentally ill.

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Updated 05/20/2006