In Washington D.C., juveniles charged with certain offenses (including some misdemeanors and non-violent, low-level felonies) and diagnosed with a mental illness, can apply to be diverted to a specialized mental health court.
There, under the guidance of Judge Joan Goldfrank, youths are held accountable for their specific problem behavior—such as school attendance, substance abuse, or avoiding mental health treatment.
Early results are encouraging: out of the 56 enrolled in 2011, only eight were subsequently re-arrested. This rate, 14 percent, is far lower than the average re-arrest rates out of D.C.’s general juvenile courts, which hovers around forty percent.
While the Washington Post story highlights some of the problems a mental health court faces—namely, acceptance of a mental health diagnosis by a juvenile and his or her family—the early indicators of success (as measured through reduced recidivism and reduced costs), should make Washington, D.C. residents optimistic.