Understanding Utah Mental Health Courts

Understanding Utah Mental Health Courts

Persons with severe mental health issues have many and difficult challenges. If someone has a manic episode, is suicidally depressed, or having delusions, it is common for them to become involved with law enforcement and criminal courts. Utah has recognized that these situations are most often successfully handled by the mental health system rather than incarceration.

A Chance at Treatment, Not a Prison Term

Utah laws introduced Mental Health Courts to address these special-needs individuals by integrating law enforcement with the mental healthcare system. Rather than being jailed, identified participants in this program agree to participate in a treatment plan that will address their underlying mental health issues.

Every person’s case is different which is why treatment plans are unique to them. The program may direct the defendant to remain in a hospital setting to adjust medications, participate in group therapy sessions, meet with mental health professions or other requirements. The court may require those who have drug or alcohol dependencies described in Utah drug laws address these co-morbid issues as well.

The Defendant’s Responsibilities

While some may look at the Mental Health Court option to avoid jail time, they should be aware that their diversion to this court depends on their full participation. If they refuse part or all the treatment or do not give their effort and attention to their recovery, they can be sentenced to jail instead.

The Mental Health Court is a significant improvement over incarceration. However, the Utah State Hospital has no room for additional patients. Aaron Kinikini, legal director of the Disability Law Center, decries the number of seriously mentally ill who are forced to remain in prison without treatment and usually kept in solitary confinement.

“In our view, it’s unconstitutional for people to wait this long for treatment in a jail when they haven’t been convicted of a crime,” Kinikini said in an interview.


If you believe you or a loved one could benefit from appearing before a Mental Health Court rather than criminal court, call criminal defense attorney, Rex B. Bushman for an appointment to explore whether this program may be right for you.