Integrating the criminal justice system into mental health service delivery: the Worcester diversion experience

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Adult; *Criminal Law; Delivery of Health Care; Delivery of Health Care, Integrated; Humans; Insanity Defense; *Judicial Role; Massachusetts; Mental Competency; Mental Health Services; Outcome and Process Assessment (Health Care); Prisoners; Psychotic Disorders; Referral and Consultation; Specialization; Substance-Related Disorders


Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology


The substantial number of persons with mental illness encountered in many sectors of the criminal justice system has spurred actors from various agencies within that system to take actions aimed at reducing the growth of this population. These actions have included the development of specialty police units, jail diversion programs, and other mechanisms for channeling persons with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and into mental health treatment. The courts, too, have become involved in this effort with the recent development of the "mental health court," the latest of the "specialty" or "problem solving courts." These courts have not been without their critics, however, nor are they the only feasible approach to court-based diversion. This paper identifies and explores a range of options for structuring the relationship between criminal courts and local mental health systems. Beginning with a discussion of the rationale motivating the development of mental health courts, two alternatives to this specialty court model are discussed. One involves judges dealing with defendants having mental illness and substance abuse on a case-by-case basis. The other takes advantages of linkages that may already exist between most courts and the mental health providers who conduct their forensic assessments, expanding the role of these providers to serve as boundary spanners between courts and the components of local mental health systems. Regardless of the model adopted, however, appropriate linkages must exist between the courts and relevant providers. A case study is provided that demonstrates how the status of a locale's linkages can be evaluated and how the information derived from such evaluation can be used to improve the linkages between police, courts, and health and human services agencies.

DOI of Published Version



Behav Sci Law. 2005;23(2):277-93. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Behavioral sciences and the law

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID