Allison Redlich, University at Albany – Mental Health Courts

Dr. Allison Redlich

Dr. Allison Redlich

There is consistent evidence that MHCs reduce arrests and number of days in jail, however the mechanisms by which MHCs produce these reductions are entirely unclear,” said Redlich. “One presumption held by MHCs is that untreated mental illness causes criminal behavior, and that by treating the illness, criminality will decrease. However, this presumption lacks empirical support.” – University at Albany NEWSCenter – (July 23, 2014)

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Allison Redlich, associate professor of criminal justice an The University at Albany, State University of New York, profiles mental health courts.

Allison D. Redlich is an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York, University at Albany. Prior to that, she was a Senior Research Associate at Policy Research Associates and a Research Scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Davis. Professor Redlich is a nationally recognized expert on police interrogations and false confessions, particularly with vulnerable populations such as persons with mental illness and juveniles. In addition to this area of study, Professor Redlich conducts research on Mental Health Courts and other forms of criminal justice diversion. She has published extensively in both areas and is often asked to provide expert testimony. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Justice, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and NARSAD: The Mental Health Research Association. Professor Redlich is active in two divisions of the American Psychological Association, including serving on the Executive Committees of the American Psychology-Law Society and the Society for Child and Family Practice and Policy.

Mental Health Courts


One of the most difficult problems facing our criminal justice system today is the overrepresentation of individuals with serious mental health problems, who revolve in and out of the system and end up consuming unequal shares of scarce resources. In response, judges and other justice professional have come up with creative, non-traditional methods, to reduce the numbers of these so-called “frequent flyers.”

One such creative response is the Mental Health Court.

These courts, which now exist in almost every state, share the primary goals of diverting offenders with mental illness from jail and prisons into community mental health and substance use treatment, and to reduce recidivism.

In earlier research, my colleagues and I demonstrated that the courts are successful in meeting these goals.

For example, we found that, in comparison to similar offenders not enrolled in the courts, those who were enrolled had fewer new arrests and fewer days incarcerated over an 18-month period.

More recently, doctoral student Woojae Han and I investigated possible reasons why mental health courts are successful in achieving their goals. We focused on what people understood and felt when they first joined the court. We found that mental health court clients who had a better understanding of court procedures and requirements, who felt it was their choice to enroll, and who felt they were treated fairly and respectfully at the onset of their participation were more likely to graduate from the court, more likely to comply with court orders, and were less likely to be arrested and incarcerated, even up to four years later.

Going forward, it will be important for mental health courts to ensure clients are making informed and voluntary decisions.

This type of decision-making is not only legally required, but can also help these non-traditional courts realize their goals of reducing the number of offenders with serious mental illness incarcerated in our jails and prisons and congesting our courthouses.