Case Management: Navigating the Criminal Justice System

Collaborating with other agencies and internal departments is important when coordinating services. Case managers who work with individuals with mental health and intellectual disabilities will occasionally find themselves involved in the criminal justice system in addition to other human service providers. This collaboration is critical for ensuring that people are able to obtain the appropriate treatment instead of incarceration. People with mental illness or other disabilities are often placed in jail settings due to a lack of psychiatric beds or limited resources to be maintained in the community. This has led to further mental decompensation or deterioration and resulted in several deaths in jails across the country.
Fortunately, many cities are providing services that are helping bridge the gap between the mental health system and the criminal justice system. Many local agencies have a clinician that serves as a liaison to the court in order to determine the most appropriate resolution. More police departments are training officers to specifically help with the mentally ill. These officers are often referred to as  CIT (Crisis Intervention Team)  officers.
The services provided by the court liaison may include a psychological evaluation. They might also provide competency restoration services to determine if the client is able to testify in court. These services usually consist of several home and office visits to determine competency. A report is then sent to the court to either continue with the court proceedings or to discharge the client from competency restoration services.

Documentation for Court
Sometimes the case manager will be asked to provide a letter to the court and provide background information instead of testifying in court. Here is a basic outline you want to use to develop a letter the court. You may also be asked to provide copies of previous psychological evaluations and any other documentation from the client record.

Set up the document like a regular letter with the address of the courthouse. Try to find out who the judge will be and address it directly to them. The normal greeting would be to the honorable judge (insert name).
 Diagnostic and Background Information
The introduction is usually a little diagnostic and demographic information. You may also want to include information about current housing and other support services that the client receives (i.e. Case Management, Day Support, Group Home Placement, etc.).  The purpose of this introduction is to establish that a significant disability is present.

Example Opening Sentence: “Mr. Jones is a 22 year old male diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder and Mild Intellectual Disability.”  Then discuss the support services in place.

Behavioral History:
Include any history of verbal or physical aggression. This area can also include any relevant educational information such as special education or other behavioral services provided in school. You also want to go into detail about specific incidents of verbal and physical aggression as well as inappropriate behaviors. In addition, document any previous arrests and interaction with law enforcement.
Community Placement History:
Provide a detailed description of all community placements such as multiple residential placements, day support, and work placements. Provide details for the reasons for discharge from each placement if this information is available. Document any patterns of behaviors that led to the dismissal from other programs. You also want to include any refusal of services. The court may then order the person to receive treatment.
Treatment Recommendations:
This is the where the area where the case manager can make suggestions to prevent further involvement with law enforcement. This area requires a bit of caution, as you don’t want to come across as telling the judge what to do. This area should provide only suggestions to maintain the individual in the community. Emphasis should be placed on continuing current support services and adding additional services that will prevent relapse. Recommendations often include probation, anger management, offender counseling, addiction counseling, etc.

The case manager’s role in situations that involve law enforcement is to provide as much information and resources as possible so that the justice system can take the most appropriate action. There are still situations when incarceration cannot be avoided but providing the information can ensure that they receive adequate care.


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Martin Gardner
Thanks for visiting Case Management Basics! Martin Gardner is the founder of and Case Management Basics, LLC. Gardner is a mental health professional with over 20 years of experience in the human services field.

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