Behavioral Health Court
The mission of the Behavioral Health Court of the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco is to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism of criminal defendants who suffer from serious mental illness by connecting these defendants with community treatment services, and to find appropriate dispositions to the criminal charges by considering the defendant's mental illness and the seriousness of the offense.
Innovations of Behavioral Health Court
BHC provides wraparound services that support evidence-based practices for treating mentally ill offenders. The clinical team uses Forensic Assertive Community Treatment, Illness Management and Recovery, Trauma Informed Care, Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. In 2008, BHC received the Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) Best Practices Award.
In 2008, the Court added Supported Employment to its list of evidence-based practices. Behavioral Health Court’s Supported Employment Program provides support to clients with major mental illness by helping them to find and maintain employment and eliminate barriers that forensic mental health consumers face. The goal is to provide competitive work in integrated work settings that match the capabilities and interests of clients for whom competitive employment has not traditionally occurred.
Continuum of Care
BHC provides a seamless continuum of care beginning with in-jail services, transitional care prior to release, and early release into the community. Jail Psychiatric Services (JPS) supports psychiatric treatment for inmates and is the first link to the continuum of care model. Jail Aftercare Services (JAS) is responsible for screening inmates for BHC eligibility, presenting the case to the BHC legal team, and providing transitional and linkage case management services as clients leave the jail and connect with community treatment providers. The continuum of care concept is one of the most innovative in the country and is responsible for enhancing a client's successful return to the community.
The history of BHC
The Behavioral Health Court was created in 2002 in response to the increasing numbers of mentally ill defendants cycling through the jails and courts. It is a collaboration among the Superior Court, Public Defender's Office, District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, Haight Ashbury Free Clinic's Jail Psychiatric Services (JPS), UCSF's Citywide Case Management, and the Department of Public Health.
The goals of BHC?
BHC strives to achieve the following goals: 1) connect criminal defendants who suffer from serious mental illness to treatment services in the community; 2) find appropriate dispositions to the criminal charges that consider the mental illness and the seriousness of the offense; and 3) ensure public safety by decreasing recidivism through appropriate mental health treatment and intensive supervision.
How does BHC work and what is the criteria for participation?
Participation in BHC is voluntary, and in many instances, the defendant does not have to enter a guilty plea to criminal charges in order to enter. The Judge and lawyers work closely with the mental health providers who provide intensive case management to the clients with a focus on the person's diagnosis and psychosocial needs rather than criminal charges. Eligibility for BHC is based on: 1) diagnosis (must have an Axis I mental health disorder); 2) gravity of the criminal charges; and 3) suitability and amenability to treatment in the community mental health system. As a general rule, if the defendant's mental illness is a primary motivating factor in the criminal activity that brought the defendant into the criminal justice system, the case will be considered for BHC. In the interest of public safety, defendants who commit certain violent charges are not allowed in the program. On average 140 clients are being monitored in BHC.
- Office of Court Administration Evaluation on Mental Health Courts, April 2010
Representing the Mentally Ill Offender: An Evaluation of Advocacy Alternatives
- National Center for State Courts Evaluation on Mental Health Courts, November 2009
Mental Health Court Culture: Leaving Your Hat at the Door - Summary
- Examining Program Costs & Outcomes of SF Behavioral Health Court, May 2009
Cost Study of San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court SUMMARY
Cost Study of San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court - FULL REPORT
The study is authored by Arley Lindberg, MSW
- Evaluation of San Francisco's Behavioral Health Court, September 2007
Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence
The study is authored by Dale E. McNiel, Ph.D and Renee L. Binder, M.D.