Making sense of California’s complex behavioral health court programs

The new CARE Court system is getting attention, but the overall court picture is complicated

California’s court systems continue to utilize innovative approaches to address their intersection with the state’s behavioral health crisis. The state’s most recent approach, the CARE Act, has the potential to redirect people away from involuntary treatment.

The CARE Act’s new paradigm provides support, treatment, and accountability for people who were previously unengaged in treatment and possibly homeless. This new approach will provide policymakers and leaders with important lessons about the effectiveness of courts at engaging people through this type of court process. Although the CARE Act is a civil court process, many of the petitions will come from people with criminal justice involvement.

Wide ranges in conservatorship filings and competency placements across the state will mean CARE Act implementation and impacts will vary amongst counties. Combined with an ongoing lack of coordination among California’s various criminal and civil court systems, assessing the effectiveness of the CARE Act will require examining the Act’s impact on California’s entire court System.

California counties report that about 43 percent of the roughly 60,000 people in jails have an open mental health case. In our civil courts, nearly 100,000 filings are filed yearly related to mental health conservatorship and 5250 crisis holds.

The new CARE Act model enters an already crowded arena. Alternative courts have been created throughout the state to provide treatment pathways for individuals involved in our court systems who have behavioral health conditions. This has led to a complex matrix of services and systems routed through the 58 county superior courts across numerous calendars and related specialty courts.

To better understand the current landscape across California, we partnered with O’Connell Research on an interactive tool using available county-level court data. Click on the map to explore county offerings, as well as relative rates of LPS conservatorships and incompetency findings.

As the state expands the types of courts available, it’s important to understand current utilization, along with the presence of collaborative or civil courts. To read the report associated with this research, click here.

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