Overcoming Operational Obstacles in a Mental Health Court: Structural vs. Individual Factors of Success

Michelle Manasse, Emory University

Although a large number of mentally ill individuals are currently under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, involvement in the criminal justice system does little to address their needs (Ditton 1999). This has led to criminal justice innovations, especially in the form of diversion programs such as mental health courts (MHC's). MHC's generally divert mentally ill offenders out of the criminal justice system, provide access to treatment in the community, and monitor participants for compliance. Yet, mental health courts face significant barriers to implementation and operation. In addition to facing persistently scarce resources, this type of diversion program is a departure from standard jail/court operation and requires a unique collaboration of individuals and agencies to function. As a collaborative network of, there is great opportunity for both individual resistance and structural limitations to create obstacles in such diversion programs. Yet, there is equal opportunity for individual effort and innovative structural change to overcome those obstacles.

This researcn will identify factors that foster or hinder the adjudication of and service delivery to clients within a mental health court and examine these factors from an organizational perspective. To do this, I will be using the Dekalb County Diversion Treatment Court (DTC) in Decatur, GA as a case study. I will draw on the mental health and criminal justice literature to discuss the extent to which the Dekalb County DTC has succeeded in addressing the needs of mentally ill offenders. I will further draw on several literatures, especially those portions of the organizational literature that describe the factors necessary for successful collaborative efforts (Bardach 1998), to discuss the sources of operational obstacles and solutions in the DTC.

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Updated 05/20/2006