A Review on the effectiveness of Canadian and American mental health courts


  • David Dunford University of Alberta & Alberta Health Services
  • Andrew Haag University of Alberta & Alberta Health Services




meta-analysis, mental health courts, Canada, United States, practices, recidivism


Objective: This systematic review synthesizes mental health court (MHC) research across the United States and Canada. This study reviews and compares the operations and practices of MHCs across both countries, as well as their recidivism rates.
Methods: We gathered from existing literature to present common MHC practices used across the United States. However, in response to the lack of literature about Canadian day-to-day practices, we developed a questionnaire and contacted every Canadian MHC. In total, we contacted 36 Canadian MHCs, and 19 courts filled out a questionnaire. With respect to recidivism rates, we conducted a comprehensive literature search in February and March 2019 in PsycINFO, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts using the keywords mental health court, therapeutic justice, serious mental illness, mentally ill offenders, mental health diversion and problem-solving courts.
Results: Canadian and American MHCs have similar practices. However, American MHC’s have more robust screening measures and typically admit more participants with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder into their programs compared to Canadian MHCs. MHC participants in both countries typically had lower recidivism rates compared to regular docket court participants.
Conclusions: MHC research should inform public policy. Additional research should move in the direction of discovering the predictors for why MHCs reduce recidivism.


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How to Cite

Dunford, D., & Haag, A. (2020). A Review on the effectiveness of Canadian and American mental health courts. International Journal of Risk and Recovery, 3(2), 28–42. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijrr.v3i2.4112