A new study has found that use of the San Francisco Behavioral Health Court (BHC) can reduce the risk of recidivism and violence by people with mental illnesses involved with the criminal justice system. Recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study retroactively compared the occurrence of new criminal charges for 170 BHC participants with 8,067 adults with mental illnesses booked into the county jail during the same period.
After compensating for selection bias, demographics, prior charges and clinical diagnoses, researchers concluded that participation in the BHC resulted in longer time without any new charges. BHC participants had approximately a 26 percent lower risk of new criminal charges and a 55 percent lower risk for violent crimes than the group of comparable individuals. The study also found that these positive results extended beyond a participant’s involvement with the mental health court; eighteen months after graduation, the BHC group had an estimated 39 percent lower risk of being arrested for a new offense and 54 percent lower risk for a violent crime than the control group.
These findings represent an important step in testing empirically the impact of mental health courts. Although the Justice Center estimates that well over 150 mental health courts are in operation across the country, few studies have evaluated the effect of these programs on participants’ recidivism rates. Therefore, the fact that involvement in the BHC lowers its participants’ risk of new offenses and, more importantly, that this trend extends beyond involvement in the program itself, is very encouraging for mental health courts across the country.