A Guide to Mental Health Court Design and Implementation

A publication of the Council of State Governments, prepared for the Bureau of Justice Assistance

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The last five years have witnessed a boom in the development of mental health courts. From only a handful of such courts in the late 1990s, there are now more than 100 nationwide. With this recent surge, mental health courts are quickly becoming the most popular strategy across the country to address the overrepresentation of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.

Even in their infancy, much has already been written about mental health courts, including evaluations of individual courts, analyses of practices across courts, and commentaries on the merits of the mental health court concept. This guide attempts to build on that substantial body of work by providing a roadmap, based largely on the experience of existing mental health courts, for those interested in establishing a mental health court in their jurisdiction.

The guide is organized according to the three basic steps, described below, that should be followed by any community considering the establishment a mental health court:

1. Understanding the mental health court concept.

2. Determining whether a mental health court is appropriate

3. Considering elements of mental health court design and implementation

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