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Utah SAC Core Capacity Project: Statewide Mental Health Court Outcome Evaluation

Award Information

Award #
Awardee County
Salt Lake
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $60,000)

The State Justice Statistics (SJS) Program is designed to maintain and enhance each state's capacity to address criminal justice issues through collection and analysis of data. The SJS Program provides support to each state to coordinate and conduct statistical activities within the state, conduct research to estimate impacts of legislative and policy changes, and serve as a liaison in assisting BJS to gather data from respondent agencies within their states.

Utah’s Statistical Analysis Center (SAC) is located in the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and has been established in CCJJ since the inception of the SAC program in the state. The Research and Data section of the CCJJ is the functional area that houses the SAC.

The Utah SAC proposes to conduct a project under the following Core Capacity area: Measuring criminal justice system performance. The Utah SAC proposes to conduct a statewide outcome evaluation of Utah's six largest adult mental health courts (MHCs) for its 2016 grant application. In March of 2015, the Utah Legislature passed a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms proposed by CCJJ (which houses both the SAA and the SAC for Utah) through its involvement in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). Many of these reforms change the way Utah deals with non-violent offenders, especially those who have mental health and/or substance use issues. As part of the implementation of these reforms, efforts are underway to create new programs and strengthen existing programs that help keep such offenders out of jail and prison, and provide them with the treatment and structure that they need to succeed and desist from further offending. Estimates based on Utah offenders screened at booking show that nearly half of those arrested and booked into jail have some form of mental health problem that warrants referral for further assessment and treatment. One such important program for offenders with mental health issues (and potentially corresponding substance use issues) is the mental health court (MHC), which offers these offenders potential plea arrangements (pre-plea/post-plea/post-adjudication) to lessen or waive charges/sentence if the offender meets the court obligations (case management, supervision, treatment, etc.). Utah currently has six adult MHCs (plus one new court in a small rural county), and this has greatly expanded from the two that were present in 2008, the last time an evaluation was conducted of the main MHC in Salt Lake County. With the possibility of further expansion to meet the needs of the criminal justice reforms, it is important that the current model on which the existing six MHCs operate is evaluated to provide feedback to the courts and information for policy makers as they make these important decisions. In partnership with the Utah Criminal Justice Center (UCJC) at the University of Utah, CCJJ and the Utah SAC have already conducted a review of existing MHC models nationwide and in Utah, including the capacities and practices of the Utah adult MHCs and their present amenability to outcome evaluation. The proposed project builds on this previous effort by conducting a full outcome evaluation on each of the six largest MHCs. This will involve a retrospective design that will follow MHC participants for two years post-exit to track their recidivism (arrests and convictions) and treatment engagement (program completion, MH/SUD treatment services received) compared to matched comparison groups (through propensity score matching). This statewide evaluation will provide important information to decision makers, and also set up a framework for continuing periodic evaluation of MHCs and other specialty courts in Utah. (CA/NCF)

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.

Date Created: September 13, 2016