New research explores the effectiveness of mental health courts in preventing violence

As mental health courts (MHCs) increasingly accept cases involving more serious charges, are they effective at reducing the risk of future violence incidents among persons with mental disorders? Faculty members Dale McNiel, PhD; Kevin L, Delucchi, PhD; and Renée L. Binder, MD, delved into that question with a study recently published online by Psychiatric Services in Advance entitled “Prospective Study of Violence Risk Reduction by a Mental Health Court.” Fourth co-author Naomi Sadeh, PhD, now at the Boston University School of Medicine, was a postdoctoral fellow in the department when the research was conducted.

In the study, the researchers looked at a sample of 169 jail detainees with a mental disorder who either entered an MHC or received treatment as usual. Of the entire study population, 72% had been charged with felonies. Participants were interviewed at baseline and during a one-year follow up, and their arrest records were reviewed.

At the conclusion of the study, it was discovered that the risk of perpetrating violence during the follow-up year among MHC participants was less than half that of the matched comparison group who were processed through traditional courts. Accordingly, the authors concluded, “The results support the conclusion that the MHC model can be extended beyond persons charged with nonviolent misdemeanors in a way that enhances, rather than threatens, public safety.”