Why do mental health courts work? A confluence of treatment, support & adroit judicial supervision



Michelle Edgely

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

21 March 2014






The article contributes to the understanding of ‘what works’ in mental health courts (MHCs). There are now almost 400 MHCs in the US and more worldwide. A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that MHCs can succeed in reducing recidivism among offenders who suffer mental disorders. This article argues that MHCs succeed when they have achieved the right confluence of essential elements, including providing evidence-based treatment and psychosocial supports and using adroit judge-craft. After a brief review of some of the studies demonstrating MHC success, this article discusses the research into the necessary foundations of rehabilitation programs. It is argued that, although treatment and psychosocial services should be supplied within an evidence-based framework, neither of the two leading conceptual models – Risk–Needs–Responsivity and the Good Lives Model – are empirically proven with offenders who suffer from mental disorders. Despite the absence of proof, the Good Lives Model is argued to be appropriate for MHCs because it is normatively consonant with therapeutic jurisprudence. The MHC judge is another essential element. The judicial role is assayed to elucidate how it functions to promote the rehabilitation of offenders with mental disorders. It is argued that the role of the MHC judge during supervisory status hearings is to establish a therapeutic alliance and practice motivational psychology with each MHC participant.




Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee