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A case study of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s Mental Health Court: Balancing therapeutic jurisprudence and public safety.

Pallone, Melanie
June 4, 2015

Source: (2011) Dissertation. Doctor of Philosophy. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

When support mechanisms that keep mentally ill offenders from
committing crimes break down, many of these special offenders have been incarcerated, contributing to a decline in their welfare and problems for society upon their release. Like drug courts, mental health courts arose in response to a crisis, allowing these offenders to be diverted from jail and instead directed to appropriate treatment and supports, along with intensive probationary controls. Restorative justice and therapeutic jurisprudence underpin the diversion of mentally ill offenders back into the community. This study examined the inception of a specific large mental health court and the
inner working of the courtroom workgroup formed to handle the dual duty of treatment
and regulation of offenders with serious mental illness. Creation of the mental health
court in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, occurred after a formal program had already
been in place to assist mentally ill offenders in treatment while diverting them from jail,
and allows for longer periods of probation and monitoring of participants. The research
employed in-depth qualitative inquiry of past and present stakeholders in the court
process, including semi-structured interviews with court team members and participants, observation of courtroom and workgroup behavior in both public and private settings, and document analysis, and triangulated data with various court and agency records of
court characteristics and participant behavior.
Primary goals of this case study were to add to the literature on this emerging area
of criminal justice research on problem-solving courts, by probing a specific local
decision to implement and fund a mental health court, by delving deeply into the
formation and functioning of this court’s workgroup and the experiences of its
participants, and by illustrating possible improvements in the case processing model that
might be accomplished for this and other courts. Implications include what might be necessary and appropriate for a mental health court to be founded and to operate
successfully, regarding both treatment of mentally ill offenders and regulation of their
behavior for community safety. Findings may be useful to assist jurisdictions
contemplating a mental health court, respecting court and agency personnel, case
processing, community treatment resources, participant pools, sanctions systems, and funding. (author’s abstract)


AbstractCourtsNorth America and CaribbeanPolicePost-Conflict ReconciliationRJ in SchoolsStatutes and LegislationVictim Support
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