Hannah Brem of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, JURIST's News Managing Editor, and Elizabeth Haigh of the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Law, Assistant News Editor at JURIST, discuss the changing landscape of mental health courts in the US following an interview with some participants from the documentary 'Any Given Day'...
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Within the incarcerated population, a disproportionate number suffer from mental illnesses or disabilities. After the deinstitutionalization of mental health resources in the 1960s, many people who suffered from mental illnesses entered the prison system. According to the American Psychological Association “this trend accounts for about seven percent of prison population growth from 1980 to 2000—representing 40,000 to 72,000 people in prisons who would likely have been in mental hospitals in the past.”
In an effort to mitigate the amount of mentally ill people entering the prison system, the Department of Justice created mental health courts through the America’s Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project Act and the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004. Mental health courts are innovative programs that serve as an alternative docket for mentally ill or disabled people within the criminal justice system. These programs typically offer resources to “improve clients’ social functioning and link them to employment, housing, treatment, and support services.” Since the founding of the first mental health court, there are now over 300 courts across the US and at least one in every state.
The documentary ‘Any Given Day’ from filmmaker Margaret Byrne follows Angela Roache-Pena, Daniel Brown Jr., and Dimitar Ivanov through a mental health court in Cook County, Illinois, as they try to break free from the carceral system. The documentary also features Judge Lauren G. Edidin. We spoke with Margaret, Angela and Judge Edidin to discuss the film and their impressions of the mental health court system.
While every court is different, each mental health court is statutorily created and must work within the confines of the law. In order to be admitted into the Cook County mental health court, a participant must be considered “high risk and high need.” This means that a participant must have a substantial criminal history and a diagnosed mental illness or disability. The program also excludes anyone with a violent record or history. Judges retain substantial discretion to respond to violations, and Judge Edidin tries to lead with sympathy and compassion. She noted that she may be more forgiving than most judges in the program; Angela and Margaret also commented on Judge Edidin’s empathy.
Judge Edidin believes understanding is essential. She says, “we can never walk in someone else’s shoes. Life is hard. Life has ups and downs for everyone.” Margaret makes the point that “[m]ost of, maybe 70 percent, of the participants have dual diagnoses,” so having empathy for the participants and what they go through is vital for these problem solving courts to be successful.
When reflecting on her experience in the Cook County mental health court, Angela said, “I really appreciate this program because it gave me a second chance at life. I got the treatment that I needed and helped me realize that I couldn’t handle this by myself.” The mental health court program worked for these Angela, but can the same be said for all other participants of mental health court programs?
Although there is still research to be done, these programs do seem effective. A Loyola Chicago study reported that participants “indicated the program was encouraging, supportive and improved their lives.” Another study in Clark County, Nevada, yielded positive results, as well. This study specifically focused on recidivism rates within the local mental health court program. The study found that “the average number of arrests for all participants was significantly reduced from 1.99 preenrollment to .48 post enrollment.” The Clark County program was especially successful at reducing overall arrests and probation violations for those who graduated the program.
One of the things holding back the mental health court system is a shortage of funding. Judge Edidin said, “there’s just a lot of issues still with having the resources…every program wants to be paid, so that can be an issue for us.” Federal grants were originally $75,000 and have since increased. Judge Edidin stressed that funding is essential to make sure that participants have access to necessary resources such as food, housing, psychiatric services and more. One downside to mental health court programs may be the heavy involvement of the court system itself. Angela and Margaret both expressed a desire for more community resources that are accessible outside of the carceral system. Margaret concluded, “I think what’s wonderful about the mental health court is that it shows that treatment works. I think that now as we look forward we need to think about how we deliver treatment. I think the more that we can avoid bringing people into a punitive system the more effective it will be.”
A special thank you to Margaret Byrne, Angela Roache-Pena, Daniel Brown Jr., Dimitar Ivanov, and everyone who worked on this incredibly insightful and personal documentary.
WORLD Channel is hosting a special online event with filmmaker Margaret Byrne and Cook County Felony Mental Health Court Judge Lauren Edidin for a discussion on what it’s like to live with mental illness and what programs are available to help. Join us and share this free event on Thursday, July 7th at 07:00 PM in Eastern Time. Register here. You can watch the trailer for ‘Any Given Day’ here.
In honor of BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month in July, “America ReFramed” is proud to present the broadcast premiere of ANY GIVEN DAY on July 7th, during its milestone 10th season on public television’s WORLD Channel. “America ReFramed” broadcasts on WORLD Channel every Thursday at 8/7c (check local listings at worldchannel.org/schedule). ANY GIVEN DAY will also stream online upon premiere at worldchannel.org, amdoc.org, and on all station-branded PBS platforms.
Hannah Brem of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law is JURIST’s News Managing Editor and Elizabeth Haigh of the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Law is an Assistant News Editor at JURIST.
Suggested citation: Hannah Brem and Elizabeth Haigh, Rise of US Mental Health Courts Highlighted in ‘Any Given Day’ Documentary, JURIST – Student Professional Commentary, July 7, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/07/hannah-brem-elizabeth-haigh-any-given-day-mental-health-courts/.
This article was prepared for publication by Katherine Gemmingen, JURIST Deputy Executive Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.