TJ thinking: mental health & criminal justice responses

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) invites us to look at the design of the law itself and also the application of the law (legal procedures and the roles of legal actors) to see how we can improve therapeutic benefits for people involved in the legal system.

A TJ approach therefore requires us to continually reflect on the latest knowledge from other disciplines such as the health and social sciences and, in so far as other legal values are not jeopardised, reform the law and legal systems accordingly.

In their recent report, First-Episode Incarceration: Creating a Recovery-Informed Framework for Integrated Mental Health and Criminal Justice Responsethe Vera Institute of Justice outlines a new framework for designing and delivering integrated mental health and criminal justice interventions.

The new framework is predicated on creating mental health treatment programs that intervene consistently and productively at the outset of people’s criminal justice involvement.

After an evaluation of current practice and a discussion of the developing new generation of interventions, the report then draws upon interviews with 11 experts in the field to propose a “first-episode incarceration” framework (modeled on first-episode interventions in the treatment of psychosis) for people who have been diagnosed with mental illness and are in contact with the criminal justice system for the first time.

The new framework is rooted in:

  • prevention and early intervention,
  • evidence-informed care, and
  • recovery-oriented practice.

What does this new framework mean for the design of court mental health programs?

Those wishing to translate this framework into court program design may wish to consider:

  • What processes are in place for early identification of people experiencing poor mental health in your system?  From the first or earliest point of contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Do these assessment processes explore not only the mental health needs but also the other broader needs of the person for recovery e.g. substance abuse, housing, employment/education, social connectedness?
  • What programs are in place for intervention at the earliest point of contact with the court system?   If you don’t have funding to create the programs can your court partner with external agencies?
  • Are these interventions evidence informed?
  • Are these intervention rooted in recovery-oriented practice, that is, not only focused on mental health services alone but “front-end, comprehensive, recovery-driven interventions have real potential to disrupt a path of criminal justice involvement by holding onto valued activities such as employment, schooling, and social connectedness”?

Read the full report here.

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