Municipal Courts: An Effective Tool for Diverting People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders from the Criminal Justice System

This report describes how municipal courts can be an effective mechanism for diverting individuals who are justice involved and have a mental and/or substance use disorder to recoverservices. The report recommends that civil courts identify and screen individuals with mental and/or substance use disorders, have a court-based clinician on staffand employ recovery-based engagement. When used together, these elements can reduce the unnecessary incarceration of people with behavioral health issues. If a sentence must be delivered, assisting those with mental and/or substance use disorders will have a sentence delivered that is proportionate to the misdemeanors. 

As a diversion strategy, municipal courts are underutilized. Municipal courts that implement four essential elements—identification and screening, court-based clinician, recovery-based engagement, and proportional response—are in the position to minimize the criminal justice system involvement and reduce unnecessary incarceration of people with mental and co-occurring substance use disorders as well as facilitate engagement or re-engagement in mental health and substance use disorder services. Applying these strategies can reduce the chances of further justice-involvement and address the needs of the individual. 

This resource was first shared in 2015. 

(Publication, PDF, 1 MB – External Link)

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