What Happens in the courtroom
When someone with a mental illness is arrested for a crime, it can seem unfair and infuriating that a person with an illness is facing prison when they need treatment. This situation can also be frustrating for professionals who are part of the criminal justice process, but have limited alternatives to incarceration. Each brings their own problems and perspective to the courtroom. These are some of the issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the system and divert people with mental illness into treatment instead of prison.

Judges rarely have access to sufficient or timely information about the defendant's mental illness and often are unfamiliar with local mental health service providers so they feel uncomfortable with sentencing options focused on treatment instead of jail.


When someone with mental illness is arrested, they often lose access to their medication and the supports that help to stabilize their mental health. This can affect their behavior and impair their judgment in the courtroom. As a consequence of their disability, people with mental illness are often low income, and they are typically represented by a court appointed attorney they do not know and might not trust.


Prosecutors are responsible for protecting the public, particularly when the defendant is charged with a serious offense. But they often recognize that cycling people through jail for low-level crimes does little to improve public safety.


Court-appointed defense attorneys have an enormous case load that makes it difficult to investigate their client's mental health history. The attorney might also feel they have a responsibility to encourage their client to plead guilty to a low-level offence with a minimal sentence rather than agree to a much longer term of supervised treatment


Concerned about repeat offenders with mental illness clogging court dockets and hampering efficiency, the court administrator may also be concerned that new approaches will require more staff work.