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HuffPost What's Working Honor Roll: Some States Are Giving Mentally Ill Offenders An Alternative To Prison, With Promising Results

04/09/2015 12:30 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2015

As journalists, we dutifully report on what's going wrong, from scandals and corruption to natural disasters and social problems. But far too often the media fails to show the whole picture, neglecting to tell the stories of what is working. From scientific breakthroughs to successful crime-reduction initiatives, the What’s Working Honor Roll highlights some of the best reporting and analysis, from a range of media outlets, on all the ways people are working toward solutions to some of our greatest challenges.

mentalhealth court

More than half of prisoners in the United States have a mental health illness. Approximately 45 percent of federal prisoners, 56 percent of state prisoners and 64 percent of jail inmates are mentally ill in some way, according to a March 2015 report by the Urban Institute. Fifty-five percent of male state prisoners have a mental health problem, and for their female counterparts the figure is a shocking 73 percent. And yet, just one in every three state prisoners and one in every six jail inmates has received treatment for their illness since being admitted, the Urban Institute found.

A growing program of mental-health courts (MHCs) could help to improve this dismal situation. Several states have now adopted the system as an alternative to putting mentally ill offenders in prison or jail. Hundreds of MHCs now exist nationwide, and they have been found to be a cost-effective way to help inmates achieve recovery, reduce the chance of relapse and keep mentally ill patients out of the criminal justice system. By reducing repeated criminal behavior, the costs of keeping mentally ill offenders in prison are dramatically lowered. Instead of going to jail, offenders are sent to community-based mental health treatment programs. MHCs are one of the very few options out there for treating mentally ill offenders and could be a revolutionary tool to help fix the current system.

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If you know a story you think should be on our Honor Roll, please send an email to our editor Catherine Taibi via catherine.taibi@huffingtonpost.com with the subject line "WHAT'S WORKING."

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