the released

INSIDE A MENTAL HEALTH COURT

"Mental health courts exist because the system has failed. If these people were being treated, they wouldn't end up with misdemeanor charges or felony charges against them in the first place. The very existence of mental health courts is really an indication of the system's failure." -- E. Fuller Torrey, psychiatrist and activist

On July 3, 2008, FRONTLINE's producers filmed inside the Allegheny County [Penn.] Mental Health Court as they followed the story of Bennie Anthony, one of the men featured in The Released. This court is one of roughly 175 mental health courts across the country, where mentally ill offenders are given probation instead of prison time, but mental health treatment is mandatory. In peak periods, the Allegheny County court's teams of caseworkers, probation officers, judges, attorneys and mental health providers can be involved with up to 800 mentally ill individuals.

Video The Matt Graham Case
He is a schizophrenic with a history of leaving residential placement, missing reviews and going off his meds. On this day, he appears before Judge John A. Zottola, having spent two weeks in jail for assaulting his stepfather and pouring barbecue sauce on his mother due to psychotic delusions. The court is faced with a familiar problem: It needs to arrange for a stable environment for Matt outside of prison that will encourage him to stay on his medication. In this clip, the court team discuss one option: placement in the "CRC," the Mercy Behavioral Health Central Recovery Center.

Interview: Judge John A. Zottola
Read FRONTLINE's interview with Judge John A. Zottola.

Related Readings

How Special Courts Can Serve Justice and Help Mentally Ill Offenders
U.S. News and World Report visits the Allegheny County Mental Health Court featured in The Released. (Feb. 7, 2008)

Using Tax Dollars to Turn Lives Around is Money Well Spent
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who made his name profiling a homeless, schizophrenic classical musician -- his story is now a movie, The Soloist -- visits two of L.A.'s mental health courts. (March 15, 2009)

A Worthy Diversion
Another profile of the Allegheny County Mental Health Court, this one from the American Prospect and written by the co-author of a 2003 Human Rights Watch study on the mentally ill in prison. (June 23, 2008)

A New Justice System for the Mentally Ill
An article describing the inner workings and rationale behind mental health courts from FRONTLINE's 2005 report, The New Asylums.

A Strategy That Works
This Psychiatric News article summarizes several studies on the effectiveness of mental health courts in reducing recidivism. Includes links to the three studies mentioned, including this RAND Corporation report on the Alleghany County Mental Health Court. (Sept. 21, 2007)

A Primer for Policymakers and Practitioners (PDF file)
Even though this report is aimed at professionals, it lays out the basics of mental health courts with a minimum of jargon. A product of the Consensus Project, whose Web site has a page dedicated to mental health courts.

Intervention Fact Sheet: Mental Health Courts (PDF file)
This briefing from the Rutgers Center for Behavioral Science & Criminal Justice Research looks at the difficulties in evaluating the effectiveness of mental health courts.

Allegheny Country Mental Health Court
The Web site of the court featured in The Released -- part of the Allegheny County [Penn.] Department of Human Services -- lays out how the court works and links to several PDFs, including a 2004 report on the court's first two years in operation and a testimonial from an inmate in the program.

posted april 28, 2009

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