Mental health courts successful in treating criminal offenders

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COLUMBIA - A new MU study shows criminal offenders who get treatment through a mental health court instead of going to jail are better at handling relationships with other people.

“Participants in these programs are seeing them as being successful," said Kelli Canada, assistant professor at the MU School of Social Work. "People said that it was awful that they had to commit a crime just to get access to treatment. But they were grateful for it.”

“They used words like a blessing - that they feel blessed to be in this program, which you don’t often hear with criminal justice based programs,” Canada said.

Mental health courts provide an alternative sentence program for mentally ill criminal offenders.

Twenty-six adults participated in the study. They experienced reduced drug and alcohol use, improved relationships with family, mood stability and increased patience.

“Even if they want to use drugs, there is a chance that they could have a urine analysis the next morning. That is a good deterrent to stop using, and those prolonged periods of sobriety gives families some hope that they are on the road to recovery. Having those longer periods of sobriety really allows them to make those relationships again," Canada said.

In Boone County, the mental health court has existed since 2003. It was established in response to the increasing numbers of mentally ill persons found in the local jail population.

“We really see the positive effects of the individuals we treat," said Michael Princivalli, treatment court administrator in Boone and Callaway counties. "They definitely get better relationships to friends and family.”

The court helps people with anything from medical needs, housing, managing school or getting bus passes as an effort to help them be sustainable in the community.

“We provide them with tools and life goals and try to give them the structure they need to achieve their goals. It is a combination of supervision and treatment, and we help them so they don’t get the same problems, that sent them here in the first place,” Princivalli said.

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