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Authors

Sheila Moheb

Abstract

Proponents of MHCs assert that alternative court systems will provide efficient jail diversion programs and reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system by directing them to appropriate community treatment facilities. At the same time, MHCs must serve as only one branch of a larger, cohesive community effort to deter individuals with mental illness from incarceration, if not from conviction. Both advocates and adversaries of MHCs remain wary of the potential misuse of mental health courts, which may subject people with mental illness to greater criminalization or lead to greater fragmentation of the mental health system. Part II of this comment will discuss the existing issues that effectuate the tension between the criminal justice system and mentally ill offenders, which provides important context to the debate surrounding the establishment of MHCs. Part III will examine the recent federal support for alternative approaches to handling mentally ill offenders and the different operational tactics implemented by existing MHC programs. Finally, Part IV will study the launch of Virginia's first MHC in Norfolk, while exploring the latest legislative defeat in Virginia, Senate Bill 158 of the 2010 General Assembly, which sought to establish MHCs statewide. The recent bill proposed to allow general district courts and circuit courts to voluntarily undertake separate mental health dockets. However, the Senate and the House were unable to agree on the methodology purported by the bill.