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August 13, 2008

Mental Health Courts as a Way to Provide Treatment to Violent Persons With Severe Mental Illness

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Drs Lamb and Weinberger), Institute of Psychiatry, Law, and Behavioral Sciences (Dr Weinberger), University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

JAMA. 2008;300(6):722-724. doi:10.1001/jama.300.6.722

While the great majority of persons with severe mental illness (eg, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and other psychotic disorders) are not violent, there is a small minority who may become aggressive when stressed.1 For instance, in a US national study of persons with schizophrenia and violent behavior, the prevalence of serious violent behavior in the past 6 months was 3.6%.2 Many persons with severe mental illness and a history of violence reside in jails and prisons. As an example, a recent study in a large US metropolitan jail found that 72% of persons with severe mental illness had a history of arrests for a violent offense.3 In this Commentary we discuss how mental health courts could divert violent persons with severe mental illness from the criminal justice system to the mental health system and ensure that they receive needed treatment.