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New Options for Mentally Ill Criminal Defendants

March 29, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law - Mentally Ill

Americans are calling for a better solution for the growing problem of mentally ill or unstable citizens involved in criminal activity, New Jersey criminal attorneys report. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, where a mentally unstable man’s shooting spree at an elementary school left nearly two dozen children and teachers dead, has sparked lawmakers to find a more effective way to deal with mental illness in the criminal system and courtrooms.

Mental health courts are a fairly new development in the legal world, as lawyers, judges and mental health advocates struggle to find more productive alternatives to prison sentences for defendants who suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and manic depression. In these courts, mentally ill criminals are offered a chance to undergo treatment instead of serving a jail sentence. Judges work with health care professionals to determine what treatment is needed, and often the defendants are required to check in with the judge on a regular basis.

Judges and attorneys report that "defendants who get the treatment and support they need are less likely to re-offend," similar to drug users who enter rehabilitation facilities as an alternative to prison. Currently, about 300 mental health courts exist in the United States, compared to nearly 3,000 drug courts.

Mental health care advocates and New Jersey criminal attorneys call these courtrooms "safety nets" for mentally ill persons who fall through the cracks of health care programs.  Ideally, health care professionals and medical treatment centers would provide help to mentally unstable patients. Nevertheless, the mental health courts serve as a good stopping point for those who fail to get the help they need before they commit a crime. Sometimes, defendants are offered a deal—if they complete the treatment program, the judge will dismiss their pending criminal charges. This bargain is a powerful motivation for defendants to seek help rather than incarceration.

New Jersey criminal attorneys say that the effective use of mental health courts could lower the number of mentally unstable criminals incarcerated across the country, and proper care could rehabilitate these criminals to be productive members of the community. The NJ criminal attorneys at Helmer, Conley and Kasselman, PA offer legal advice and representation to all those who can benefit from treatment rather than a jail sentence. Contact us today at 856-547-7888 for a free consultation.

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