The Role of Mental Health Courts in Mitigating Family Violence

Author(s): 
Linhorst, D.M., Kondrat, D., Eikenberry, J., & P. A. Dirks-Linhorst. (2022).
Source: 
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31(7-8), 3779 – 3800.
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Summary: 

Mental health courts are one means to mitigate violence against family members by people with mental illness. This study identified the rate at which cases of family violence come before a mental health court and the success of defendants charged with assaulting family members. Most eligible defendants who assaulted family members participated in the court program, and among those who did, 72.2% successfully completed.

 

Expanded Abstract: 
Studies have shown that having a mental illness does not independently predict future violence when comparing people with and without a mental illness (Elbogen & Johnson, 2009; Steadman et al., 1998). When people commit violent acts, regardless of whether they have a mental illness, victims often are family members (Steadman et al., 1998). Approximately half of the victims of assault committed by people with mental illness are family members (Binder & McNiel, 1986; Estroff et al., 1998; Steadman et al., 1998; Straznickas et al., 1993). Given this prevalence of violence, Copeland (2007) considers family members of people with mental illness who are violent to be a vulnerable population.
 
Mental health courts are one potential means to mitigate violence against family members by people with mental illness. This study identified the rate at which cases of family violence come before a mental health court and the success of defendants charged with assaulting family members. In a sample of 1,456 defendants eligible to participate in a mental health court, descriptive statistics were used to report rates of admission of defendants charged with assaulting family members and their characteristics; a static group design was used to compare post-program rearrests among defendants who assaulted family members who successfully completed the program, who did not complete the program, and who did not participate despite being eligible; and logistic regression was used to determine the effect of participation on rearrest when controlling for demographic and clinical factors. The study found that family violence occurred in 24.7% of admitted cases. Most eligible defendants who assaulted family members (75.8%) participated in the court program, and among those who did, 72.2% successfully completed the program. 
 
Defendants who assaulted family members and had a positive program termination had a much lower rate of rearrest post-program completion compared with those who did not complete the program or did not participate despite being eligible, a finding that held when controlling for other factors. This study suggests that mental health courts can be an effective option for mitigating family violence committed by people with mental illness.
 
(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above).
 
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