A Therapeutic Approach to Jurisprudence: A Differential Thinking Model of Sanctions and Rewards




Virginia Barber-Rioja & Merrill Rotter

International Journal of Forensic Mental Health

August 30, 2014







With the goal of decreasing violations and promoting compliance, Mental Health Courts (MHCs) apply behavior modification principles through the use of sanctions and rewards, including jail as punishment. However, unlike Drug Treatment Courts where this model originated, the use of sanctions for violations in MHCs is more complex as identifying, understanding and addressing compliance are more difficult in mental health treatment. Jail as a sanction may not have any clinical utility, but can have detrimental effects for offenders in general and for those with mental illness in particular. This paper proposes that a pure sanction-and-reward model is undesirable for individuals in the legal context, and proposes an alternative approach to court violations that is consistent with the biopsychosocial, problem-solving and recovery models. This proposed approach includes “thinking differentially” about defendants’ violations, identifying possible explanations for what underlies the problematic behavior and administering more situation-specific clinical and judicial interventions.









Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee