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Court Alternatives for Mentally Ill Criminals Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2021


Mental disorders are quite a common cause of crimes of varying severity. However, earlier a special committee considered the mental state of the criminal and according to their research made a verdict regarding the sanity of the person. Today another system has appeared. The case of Mr. John Snodgrass demonstrates a new approach to the trial of men with mental problems. The opportunity to become a member of the mental health court program allows the guilty to participate in the course of treatment voluntarily and get a qualified help from experienced psychiatrists.

The intent of the Mental Health Court

The primary purpose of this program is to work with criminals whose mental state is impaired. The idea of the project is that the accused become a participant of the program voluntarily. According to Whitbourne (2017), it will be convenient enough for the trial if the defendant independently seeks help from specialists. Nevertheless, it does not always happen; therefore, qualified experts designed this course for those who can not adequately assess their mental state and understand that particular problems are the cause of severe crimes.

Working with dangerous criminals is not the only goal of the program. It can be noted that psychiatrists are ready to provide the necessary assistance not only to dangerous criminals with the inclinations of a murderer or a rapist. According to Bartol and Bartol (2014), criminal behavior is a rather common ailment, and some people with severe mental abnormalities do not always commit crimes. If the mental health court can prevent potential danger and help the patient to overcome the disease, it will mean that the program is coping with its tasks, and its creators implement them successfully.

Judge’s Decision Concerning the Case of John Snodgrass

The essence of John Snodgrass’s case is that he was convicted for the commission of the crime related to pedophilia. After he had tried to seduce little girls in the park, the authorities arrested him and took him into custody. Snodgrass’s lawyer proved that his client had a mental disorder and could not control his behavior. The judge who conducted the case agreed to allow the defendant to become a participant in the mental health court program voluntarily and appointed him an appropriate course of treatment, which the man had to follow.

Perhaps, the judge’s decision was entirely reasonable because, according to Skeem, Steadman, and Manchak (2015), “higher-risk individuals with mental illness should receive intensive services” (p. 918). Moreover, the defendant himself agreed to participate in the program and to take the path of correction. However, this can hardly prove that his actions will no longer be repeated, and Snodgrass will not demonstrate the inclinations associated with pedophilia anymore.

If the judge made such a decision, probably, he had enough grounds for it. Nevertheless, participation in the program does not guarantee a complete cure for a mental disorder. As Skeem, Winter, Kennealy, Louden, and Tatar (2014) note, defendants with mental health problems often have the ability to manifest recidivism regardless of the quality of the treatment provided to them. Accordingly, the participation of Snodgrass in the rehabilitation course does not give a full guarantee that the man will be cured and get rid of his mental illness.

Other Alternatives Appropriate for the Defendant

As for other possible decisions, it could also have been beneficial for the defendant to stay in a specialized medical institution. According to Glenn and Raine (2014), criminal behavior has a neurobiological basis, and it means that the formation of strange decisions occurs at the subconscious level and is born at an early age. Perhaps, if the court had decided to have the defendant spend some time in a particular medical institution for dangerous criminals, it would have had a greater positive effect. It is likely that such severe measures could have influenced the criminal more strongly, which, in the end, would help him get rid of his psychological addiction.

Furthermore, to prove the validity of the lawyer’s statements about the insanity of his client, it was possible to conduct an additional examination with the use of modern methods of clinical analysis. Raine (2013) remarks that the court, however, should consider all criminal cases committed under the influence of mental disorders as a full-fledged crime. It may be that the justification for Mr. Snodgrass’s mental illness is one of the points of the defense. In this case, it becomes necessary to check carefully whether the illness of the defendant is real or whether all his actions were committed to insanity. If it were confirmed, it is possible that the judge would have passed a more severe sentence than the course of the rehabilitation program.

Thus, the opportunity to participate in the mental health court gives any defendant a chance to undergo specialized treatment voluntarily and get help from psychiatrists. The effectiveness of the program should be confirmed by the doctors who are involved in this course. The validity of the defendant’s participation in this course should be decided by a special commission of experts. This commission makes the appropriate assumption about the timing and type of treatment according to the proper medical examination.


Bartol, A. M., & Bartol, C. R. (2014). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearce.

Glenn, A. L., & Raine, A. (2014). Neurocriminology: Implications for the punishment, prediction and prevention of criminal behaviour. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 15(1), 54-63.

Raine, A. (2013). The psychopathology of crime: Criminal behavior as a clinical disorder. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Skeem, J. L., Steadman, H. J., & Manchak, S. M. (2015). Applicability of the risk-need-responsivity model to persons with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system. Psychiatric Services, 66(9), 916-922.

Skeem, J. L., Winter, E., Kennealy, P. J., Louden, J. E., & Tatar, J. R. II. (2014). Offenders with mental illness have criminogenic needs, too: Toward recidivism reduction. Law and Human Behavior, 38(3), 212-224.

Whitbourne, S. K. (2017). Abnormal psychology: Clinical perspectives on psychological disorders (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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