Delivering on the promise of justice for all is easier said than done, but it can be that much more difficult helping litigants who suffer from mental illness.
Helping them can be incredibly difficult, so the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has embarked on a three-year initiative to improve the justice system response to those with mental health issues. The initiative includes an interactive web page, regional summits, and workshops as well as a recently released guide, titled, Leading Change: Improving the Court and Community’s Response to Mental Health and Co-Occurring Disorders.
The guide equips judges and other court leaders with the information they need to gather together teams that can systematically improve the response to mental illness, behavioral issues and substance abuse. Funded by SJI, the guide started as a project to help presiding judges in Arizona, before it quickly became clear that judges nationwide would benefit from this information.
“It is well past time to decriminalize mental illness, and it will take each one of us – state by state and community by community – to lead this change,” said Patti Tobias, NCSC principal court management consultant and one of the guide’s authors.
The guide – also written by NCSC Research Director Nicole Waters and Elizabeth Royer, a court research associate – highlights the roles that law enforcement, mental health workers, prosecutors, public defenders and others can take to help reduce the number of people with mental illness and behavioral health issues who find themselves in the justice system.
The guide and the three-year initiative fulfill a resolution from the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) that urges court leaders to examine community-wide strategies to help those with mental illness.