A Look at Why Diversion (and AOT) Work
(Sept. 12, 2013) Though it strikes us as primitive and punitive to reserve court-ordered mental illness treatment for people who commit crimes, diversion practices like mental health courts do serve a valuable service once an individual crosses that line, as we detailed in our recent state survey of mental health diversion practices. For example, a study published in Law and Human Behavior reports a 25% decline in the likelihood a mentally ill criminal defendant will be re-arrested in the year following completion of a mental health court program, among other positive outcomes (June 2013).
A blog in the lawyers’ magazine LegalTimes followed up on the study by unexplored the question of why mental health courts are effective in reducing arrest (“Study: DC mental health court yields positive results,” Sept. 3). We found the discussion of interest because of parallels to the success of assisted-outpatient treatment (AOT), the civil court procedure we champion for qualifying individuals with mental illness at risk for criminalization.
For example, the legal theory known as procedural justice holds that defendants are more likely to obey the law if the system seems legitimate, which often results when a defendant believes they have input and are treated with fairness and respect. For mentally ill defendants, who likely have had prior contact with the criminal justice system, the experience of mental health court and regular face-time with a judge interested in their progress represents a "huge" contrast” from previous encounters with the criminal justice system, the blog said.
We find this positive response highly analogous to the concept of “the black robe effect” often observed among recipients of court-ordered outpatient treatment. Far from being “coercive,” observers and participants often say AOT works precisely because patients perceive the court as fair, respectful and concerned for the participant’s welfare.
To see the black-robe effect at work, watch our 30-minute AOT documentary film “Stopping the Revolving Door.”
To see how your state ranks in using mental health courts to reduce the criminalization of mental illness, see “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States” on our special website dedicated to Treatment Advocacy Center research and reports.
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