A Guide to Collecting Mental Health Court Outcome Data

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

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The recent and rapid expansion of mental health courts across the country has been driven by the creativity of local and state officials responding to the growing number of individuals with mental illnesses who become involved in the criminal justice system. As is the case with many new innovations, the impact of these courts has not yet been documented by empirical evidence. Little research has been undertaken concerning mental health courts in general, and many of the courts have struggled to incorporate data collection into their program designs.

The purpose of this guide is to help both well-established and newly operating courts develop practical, feasible, and effective strategies for collecting outcome data.  After a brief discussion of key assumptions and target population and goals, the guide suggests strategies for:

  • Determining which data to collect
  • Obtaining the data
  • Evaluating the data
  • Comparing the data
  • Collecting qualitative data
  • Overcoming common challenges

Outcome data can be of enormous value to courts in their efforts to demonstrate the initial promise of their approach and can help to attract researchers interested in conducting a more rigorous evaluation. Mental health courts usually receive initial funding based on their potential for positive impacts. They are funded (or not) in subsequent years based on their ability to demonstrate results.

 Click Here for Full Document (.pdf)