Thinking About Specialty Courts

Sara Gordon (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law) has posted About a Revolution: Toward Integrated Treatment in Drug and Mental Health Courts (North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 2, p. 355, 2019) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This Article examines specialty courts, including drug, alcohol, and mental health courts, which proponents claim created a revolution in criminal justice. Defendants whose underlying crime is the result of a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder can choose to be diverted into a specialty court, where they receive treatment instead of punishment. Many of these individuals, however, do not just suffer from a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder; instead, many have a “co-occurring disorder.” Approximately 8.9 million American adults have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, and almost half of individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for one disorder will also meet criteria for the other. Moreover, an extensive body of literature has shown that treatment for co-occurring disorders should be integrated and that individuals should receive appropriate mental health and substance abuse treatment from a single clinician or clinical team.

This Article argues that the segregation of drug, alcohol, and mental health courts is out of step with our current understanding of the high rates of co-occurring disorders, and often fails to provide integrated treatment for the multiple disorders a single specialty-court participant might present.

Moreover, by segregating specialty courts, we are further stigmatizing addiction and failing to acknowledge that drug and alcohol use disorders are some of the many types of mental illnesses recognized by the medical community. Drug, alcohol, and mental health courts should therefore move away from their traditional siloed approach to the selection and treatment of participants and instead provide individuals with comprehensive and integrated treatment for co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders

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