This brief suggests strategies for improving the management and outcomes for cases that involve defendants with behavioral health needs.
The suggested strategies are based on a virtual learning collaborative hosted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the National Center for State Courts. The collaborative involved nine interdisciplinary teams that explored how to improve case processing and individual outcomes for people with behavioral health needs. Recommendations are proposed for improving case-flow at five stages of case processing: 1) jail; 2) arraignment; 3) appointment of counsel; 4) evaluation for problem-solving court or specialized behavioral health docket; and 5) charging process. Suggestions at the jail stage involve screening for behavioral health needs, reporting results to defense counsel and other relevant parties, and identifying defendants who may be eligible for diversion. Recommendations for arraignment (first court appearance) include screening of all unscreened defendants for behavioral health needs, referring defendants with behavioral health needs to treatment and support services when appropriate, and ensuring that detention is not used inappropriately. The third stage, assignment of defense attorney to defendant, should ensure that counsel is assigned early in case processing and is experienced in representing persons with behavioral health needs. A fourth decision-making stage is evaluation of the defendant for assignment to a problem-solving court or specialized behavioral health docket. This assessment should be done immediately after arraignment. A fifth stage is the charging process. Suggestions include an assessment for diversion to treatment and consultation with stakeholders familiar with case management options for defendants with behavioral health needs. Assessment of competency to stand trial may arise at numerous points in a case in which defendant behavioral health needs are prominent.