About the Curriculum
Without a model to guide them through designing and implementing their programs, the 300 or so jurisdictions that have launched new mental health courts since the 2000s simply replicated existing mental health courts or adapted other types of problem-solving courts.
Recognizing the need for a central training resource, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice, commissioned The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to design this interdisciplinary curriculum. The goal of this project is to make existing research and practices accessible while encouraging learners to ask the right questions at the right times and develop productive collaborations and programs that serve the needs of their communities. While the curriculum is presented as a comprehensive resource on how to plan and implement a mental health court, it is also designed to be easily adapted to supplement existing trainings, for new mental health court team members, or as a tune-up for teams that are already in operation. What’s more, the curriculum’s introductory lessons on criminal justice and behavioral health present information that is relevant to any type of collaboration between these two disciplines.
Developing a Mental Health Court includes material on a wide range of topics critical to starting and operating a mental health court. Content includes key principles in behavioral health and criminal justice, including material on diagnoses and treatment modalities, assessment for behavioral health and criminogenic needs, and defendants’ legal rights, as well as descriptions of the various practitioners in the mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice systems. The curriculum also introduces considerations for convening the right stakeholders, determining whether to start a mental health court, selecting a “target population” for the program, setting program policies, developing and monitoring treatment plans and supervision conditions, and sustaining a mental health court, including data collection and evaluation.
The curriculum’s two introductory lessons, Introduction to Behavioral Health and Introduction to Criminal Justice, contain the following components:
Presentations: Presentations use a mix of text, graphics, and multimedia clips to introduce key concepts for both lessons. Presentations are self-paced and can be viewed individually or as a group, and include interviews with over two dozen mental health court participants, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers from around the country.
Additional Resources: Both lessons feature links to relevant research, policy guides, program examples, and websites. These resources serve both to deepen users’ learning experience and connect them to the community of criminal justice and behavioral health practitioners and experts around the country.
Each of the curriculum’s eight instructional modules includes several common components:
Prep Work: These short readings introduce the concepts that will be explored in more detail throughout the module. They include program examples, excerpts from policy reports, and other relevant documents.
Presentations: Presentations use a mix of text, graphics, and multimedia clips to introduce key concepts for each module. Presentations are self-paced and can be viewed individually or as a group, and include interviews with over two dozen mental health court participants, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers from around the country.
Quizzes: Each instructional module includes a short Quiz on concepts included in the presentation.
Activities Guides: Activities Guides use individual and group Activities to apply the module’s concepts to practice. Some Activities steer teams through the process of designing specific elements for their own programs, such as a target population, a data collection plan, and an approach to facilitating participant success.*
Additional Resources: Links to relevant research, policy guides, program examples, and websites are provided for each instructional module. These resources serve both to deepen users’ learning experience and connect them to the community of mental health courts and associations around the country.
* The video case study of the Bonneville County (ID) Mental Health Court team, featured in most of the instructional modules, is used to show how a real mental health court team does its work. The Bonneville team is not intended as an ideal model; for example, some will note that its team meetings do not include defense attorneys. This curriculum does not endorse excluding defense counsel from team meetings, but presents it as a reality in many jurisdictions given limited resources and as an issue worthy of discussion for jurisdictions operating or interested in developing mental health court programs.